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Common-Core Test Group Eyes State Feedback

By guest blogger Liana Heitin

At what an attendee described as one of the milder governing board meetings this year, PARCC's K-12 and higher education leaders continued their work to define career readiness and agree on performance-level descriptors for the impending Common Core State Standards assessments.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers governing board has been at this for months now, as you may recall from Catherine Gewertz's previous coverage. Yesterday's meeting in Washington was no more conclusive than the ones before it, though it did bring one more career-technical education leader into the mix—Stephen DeWitt from the Association for Career and Technical Education, a group that had not been present before. (CORRECTED: I wrote initially that there was only one representative of the career-technical field who spoke Wednesday, but Ron Jackson, a member of ACCR, PARCC's higher-education advisory committee, and Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, was at both this meeting and past meetings.)

During the two-hour discussion, the board reviewed the states' feedback on its proposed performance-level descriptors. There was continued back and forth about whether it makes sense to set Level 4—deemed a "college-ready" level—on a five-level test so that 75 percent of students who reach that level would be expected to earn C's in entry-level credit-bearing courses. Some members argued to change the C to a B, some pushed to change the percentage as high as 90, and others wanted to keep the descriptor as is. At some point the PARCC chair, Mitchell Chester, simply implored the presenters to move on.

The feedback also showed that many stakeholders want career readiness—not just college readiness—to be included in descriptors. As the policies are written, there's some thought they might imply that career readiness is a lower standard than college readiness. Some members also expressed concern that career readiness would indicate students are ready to be hired right out of high school. Mike Cohen, the president of Achieve, a Washington-based group that manages PARCC, allayed some of that anxiety. "Career ready means ready for postsecondary career training," he explained. "Without letting the precise words get in the way, does the attempt to define career readiness help resolve the issue about not using this as a job-placement or job-hiring assessment?" Members agreed that being clear with the definition is a must.

Laura Slover, senior vice president for Achieve, said that the public could continue to offer feedback on the college-readiness policy and performance-level descriptors until September 21. She asked members to reach out to career-technical educators in their states for feedback over the next few weeks. The governing board will take a final vote on October 25.

The board also spent a quick 30-minutes going over the options for which high school end-of-course assessments will be used to determine if students are college and career ready. For ELA/Literacy, everyone in attendance agreed to use the 11th grade assessment. Math is trickier because students take three distinct courses (either Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, or Math I, II, and III). The assessment options on the table for math were to determine a final readiness score from: 1) the terminal high school assessment; 2) an expanded version of the terminal high school assessment; or 3) an aggregate of all three high school assessments. Doug Sovde, director of PARCC instructional supports and educator engagement, told me in a later interview that the members' responses were grounds to toss out the first option. The board needs to decide between options 2 and 3 by the end of September so that it can finalize blueprints by the end of October, he said.

The one concrete (and easy) action item of the day was that members unanimously agreed to let PARCC representatives work with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to establish goals for comparability.

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