It’s the start of a new school year, and that means that everyone — from students to parents to teachers to administrators — is worried about standardized testing. For some, it may mean jobs or admission. Whatever the source of anxiety is, one thing seems certain: test scores in the US are probably going to go down.
This year marks the rollout of the Common-Core aligned PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing in many school districts. Because the new standards are detailed and rigourous, and because teachers have not received much instruction on how to respond to and implement them, many administrators and policymakers think scores are likely to fall substantially. In districts that have already tried out the new exams, scores have been markedly lower.
PARCC tests will replace other standardized testing in 14 states and Washington, DC schools. Teachers are concerned that the implementation of the new tests will affect their evaluation scores; in some districts, teachers are being given a free year to adjust their instruction to the new measures. Critics claim that students don’t need more high-stakes testing and worry that Pearson (who is supplying the test) will soon distribute textbooks and other related educational materials. Proponents argue that the standards require deeper, more critical thinking skills.
The other approved test, the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) has received much less attention. It is a computer-delivered test developed by state governments and thus is not tied to the textbook industry. Proponents claim that the digital system increases accessibility, but critics counter that it leaves schools scrambling to update technology so that all students have access to the computerized version. While many districts are struggling to implement digital education initiatives in all areas of the curriculum, leveling the playing field for required testing is a top priority.
Regardless of what parents, teachers, or students might think, the exams will go forward. One teacher advises her colleagues to have a sense of humor “we’re going to learn together as we go along.”