Common Core Test Group Projects Widespread Failure

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Blake Neff Reporter
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One of the two major groups designing standardized tests aligned with Common Core has released how students are expected to score on its inaugural exam next spring, and its prediction isn’t pretty.

According to anticipated score distributions announced by the Smarter Balanced testing consortium, almost two-thirds of students taking the test next year will fall below proficiency in mathematics, while nearly six in 10 will fail to measure up in English. Defenders of the test, however, emphasize that low scores are nothing to be afraid of, and represent an increase in expectations rather than a decrease in ability.

Smarter Balanced is one of two testing consortia seeking to create Common Core-aligned standardized tests that will be shared among multiple states. 2014 will mark the first year Smarter Balanced standardized tests are fully implemented in 17 different states containing over 15 million schoolchildren.

Smarter Balanced tests will group students into four different tiers, fittingly titled Level 1 (the worst) through Level 4 (the best), with Level 3 indicating proficiency. The group’s planned “cut scores” roughly reflect how difficult Smarter Balanced expects the tests to be, and how well students are expected to perform compared with Common Core-based expectations. The cut scores have been estimated based on the results of testing trial runs given to over 4 million students in 2014 as part of the transition process.

Overall, Smarter Balanced expects about one third of students to finish at Level 1 in math exams, a position analogous to failure. For the 11th grade version of the test, forty percent are expected to be at Level 1. In comparison, only about 13 percent are expected to finish at Level 4 and about 21 percent are expected to finish at Level 3, indicating that just over a third of students are anticipated to be proficient in the math exam’s first year.

For the English tests, the situation is only marginally better. About 40 percent of students across all grades are expected to test as proficient.

The low expected proficiency rates are actually a key component of the new tests, as a major selling point for Common Core has been the claim that it raises expectations for students and honestly assesses their overall college readiness. Nonetheless, in states such as New York that have already implemented Common Core-based tests, there has been widespread consternation over the sharp drop in students’ stated proficiency compared with prior standardized tests that were more generously graded.

In a statement announcing the cut scores, Smarter Balanced executive director Joe Willhoft sought to forestall any distress over the significant drop in proficiency several participating states are likely to see.

“Because the new content standards set higher expectations for students and the new tests are designed to assess student performance against those higher standards, the bar has been raised. It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve,” said Willhoft.

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