States work together to create new academic tests

SEATTLE – Two big coalitions of states are competing for federal dollars to create a series of new national academic tests to replace the current patchwork system.

In the current system, every state gives a different test to its students. In some states, passing the exam is a graduation requirement.

The federal government has said it will award two grants of up to $160 million to create a testing system based on the proposed new national academic standards in language arts and mathematics.

Washington state is submitting the application on behalf of the group of 31 states calling itself the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Florida is submitting an application on behalf of a group of 26 states calling itself the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Each coalition has a core group and a bigger collection of states supporting the idea. Some states have signed on to support both groups. The two proposals have many similarities and the coalitions are working together on some things, but are not identical in approach or philosophy.

A third organization has expressed interest in a separate grant to create just a high school test.

The Washington coalition’s proposal describes a testing system different from what is happening in most states in a number of ways:

– Testing would be online and given at least twice a year to help teachers and parents track student progress.

– The exams would adapt to measure each student’s abilities. That’s expensive, cutting-edge technology that most individual states could not afford on their own.

– Teachers would be given other tools for ongoing, informal assessment to help them figure out if students are learning on a daily basis so they can adjust how they are teaching when necessary.

– The high school test will be designed for 11th grade, while many states currently give it in 10th.

– The system is expected to go beyond multiple choice tests and include short answer, essays and questions that require students to do research.

The Florida-led group talks about testing three times a year. Its tests would not be adaptive and an initial reading of the two plans seems to indicate the Florida-led project may include more pen and paper work.

Kris Ellington, assistant deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, emphasized her group is focusing on accountability and affordability, in addition to looking for effective ways to measure the broadest demonstration of student knowledge.