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More Research Needed on Proper Use of Common-Core Tests, Report Says

A new study cautions that more research is needed before new common-core assessments can be used as valid and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness.

In a paper released Thursday by the Center for American Progress, Morgan S. Polikoff argues that while there is "an intuitive appeal" to using results of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests to evaluate teachers, they "have not been specifically designed" for that purpose. Nonetheless, states are planning to use the tests in a range of ways, from planning professional development and rating their schools to evaluating teachers.

It's probably a good time to point out, also, that the U.S. Department of Education—which has funneled $360 million into the development of the tests—had exactly these kinds of uses in mind in 2010 when it invited groups of states to apply for the funding. In its original Notice Inviting Applications, it specified that the new tests had to be designed to:

  • Provide an accurate measure of student achievement across the full performance continuum;
  • Provide an accurate measure of student growth over a full academic year or course;
  • Produce student achievement data and student growth data that can be used to determine whether individual students are college-ready or on track to be college-ready;
  • Produce data, including student achievement and student growth data, that can be used to inform determinations of school effectiveness for accountability purposes, and of principal and teacher effectiveness for purposes of evaluation;
  • Inform professional development and support for principals and teachers;
  • Guide teaching, learning and program improvement.

The question of whether PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests can be appropriately used for high-stakes decisions like teacher evaluation—a question Polikoff refers to as "the validation challenge"—doesn't appear likely to get clear answers by the time states and districts will incorporate test results into those judgments (even with the extended time states are obtaining through the federal education department's waiver program).

This is one of seven challenges that Polikoff, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education, sees hovering for the common standards and the consortium tests. Others include:

  • The additional time some states will have to ask their students and teachers to spend on testing;
  • The cost of technology upgrades to be device-ready for the exams;
  • The coordination involved in giving the new tests while rolling out new accountability systems;
  • The difficulty—and possibly higher cost—of scoring the constructed-response items and performance tasks;
  • The need to build tests that represent the entire range of standards, instead of focusing on just a portion of them;
  • The public-relations strategy involved in managing reaction to projected lower test scores.

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