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Survey: Washington 'Insiders' Pessimistic About Common Tests

A small group of Washington policy wonks is increasingly pessimistic that the two big state assessment consortia are headed for success. That's the key finding of a survey released today by the consulting group Whiteboard Advisors.

Bear in mind that this survey takes the pulse of a really small group, and it's hardly reflective of the country in general. The group surveyed is 50 to 75 "Washington insiders"—people like current and former Congressional staffers, White House and U.S. Department of Education officials, and the heads of major organizations—so you've got to see it for what it isn't, as well as for what it is.

Since it isn't nationally representative, the survey is notable less as a reflection of general sentiment than for the way it tracks those "Washington insiders'" views across time. And the latest findings show a downward trend in warm-and-fuzzy vibes about the two federally funded test-design groups, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The story starts on page 9 of the survey. The graph on that page shows that last April, only 27 percent of the "insiders" thought PARCC was on the wrong track. Now that's up to 52 percent. Smarter Balanced's numbers have sunk by only 6 percentage points since last April, but they were more heavily "on the wrong track" to begin with than was PARCC. Seventy-one percent saw SBAC as off-base last April, and optimism grew for a while last summer. But now the "wrong track" numbers are up to 77 percent.

Page 10 shows a sampling of why respondents think what they do. There is some praise for the work: one respondent, for instance, appears to think that PARCC's sample test items reflect a rigorous and promising assessment. But others are worried about the tests being delivered on time, and troubles—both internal and external—that could cause the consortia to stumble.

Flipping through the survey to page 17, you can see this pessimism play out in a different way. Nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed predict that more states will drop out of the consortia in the coming year, the way Alabama and Utah did earlier this year. Page 19 captures an already-well-documented worry: that schools and districts lack the necessary technology to administer computer-based tests to all students.

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