Friday, September 03, 2010

Kentucky to Share as Two State Consortia Win $330 for National Test Development

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $330 million to two coalitions of 44 states and the District of Columbia for the design of new assessment systems aligned to the recently developed common-core standards. The tests are intended to measure whether students are on track for post-graduate success.

The grant money will be divided almost equally between the two applicants in the competition, which is part of the federal Race to the Top program spawned by the federal economic-stimulus law.

Kentucky is a member of both groups.

At least 12 states—Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina—participated in both the SMARTER Balanced and PARCC consortia. “My assumption is that they’ll have to choose one,” said Gary W. Phillips, a vice president and chief scientist at the American Institutes of Research in Washington.

A third group of 12 states that applied for a smaller, $30 million pot under a separate but related competition to support specific exams at the high school level, failed to win an award. That group intended to adapt the kind of board-examination systems that other countries use and align them to the common-core standards. Federal reviewers said that approach did not merit an award at this time. Kentucky was a member of that group too.

Those three were the only applicants that the department deemed eligible for the competition.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Education week,
“As I travel around the country, the number-one complaint I hear from teachers is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn’t measure what really matters,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release. “Both of these winning applicants are planning to develop assessments that will move us far beyond this and measure real student knowledge and skills.”
The highest rating by a panel of peer reviewers went to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, which consists of 26 states. It was awarded $170 million. Meanwhile, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, which includes 31 states, will receive $160 million.

Some observers caution that plenty of questions, and challenges, remain as the winning consortia move from getting awards to designing and implementing new assessment systems.

One issue, said Scott Marion, the associate director of the Dover, N.H.-based Center for Assessment, is that the states do not fully understand the future uses of the assessments.

“You’re designing an assessment system when you’re not really clear on what the use is yet, and that’s a huge challenge,” he said, noting that Congress is well behind in reauthorizing the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which likely will have a lot to say on the use of tests.

Governor Steve Beshear released a statement on the news:
Governor Steve Beshear joined Education Commissioner Terry Holliday today to announce that Kentucky will benefit from $330 million in grants awarded today from the U.S. Department of Education for efforts to improve education assessments...

“We are pleased to be part of this significant grant, and we will immediately invest these dollars into education, ensuring that our students are ready for life outside of high school, whether that involves college, vocational or technical school, or a full-time job.”

“Kentucky has been deeply involved in developing a student assessment system that is tied to the Common Core Academic Standards,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “These funds will enable Kentucky and the other consortium states to move forward in an efficient, cost-effective manner to help students achieve 21st-century skills and become college- and career-ready.”

The work of these consortia also will help Kentucky meet the mandates of 2009’s Senate Bill 1, which calls for a balanced student assessment system and a focus on college and career readiness.

SBAC will utilize using (sic) “open source” technology that will allow all 31 member states to share common, state-of-the-art exams for students. The tests will evaluate how students are progressing and evaluate their readiness for college and career. The online system will track progress on all students, and will make that information available to teachers, who may then use the results to modify their instruction if needed.

PARCC assessments will use multiple tests throughout the year to monitor student progress in reading comprehension, research projects, public speaking and utilization of digital media. These multiple assessments will provide a steady stream of progress updates for teachers.

The assessment systems are closely tied to the Common Core Standards. Kentucky was the first state to adopt these standards in March 2010. These standards are intended to provide a national guideline for K-12 in English language arts and math.

Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear told the Courier-Journal she did not yet know how much money Kentucky would receive from the grants.

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