Race to the Test Due Today — What’s Needed Going Forward

By 06/23/2010

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(This post also appears on The Quick and the Ed.)

Today is the deadline for the $350 million “Race to the Test” competition. Proposals for a $320 million fund for comprehensive assessment systems (two proposals to be funded) and a $30 million fund for high school end-of-course tests are due today. And, as feared, this “Race” is not really a competition, but more akin to your elementary school’s annual field day: There will be only three consortia competing for three awards.

EdWeek’s Catherine Gewertz reports that the two groups submitting proposals for comprehensive assessment systems each have large consortia–Smarter/Balanced with 30 states and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) with 26 states. She also relates cautionary notes about the scope of the challenge. In April, I outlined similar concerns:

Will the need for commonality and agreement among a large number of states work against ambitious, innovative approaches? For instance, there appears to be wide agreement that technology must play a large role in any future system — not only to allow for more innovative item types beyond multiple choice, but also to control costs. If all consortia members aren’t ready to implement online testing, the consortia will be held back by what’s possible in a paper-based delivery format. And, costs will explode in a system that must operate in both modes…

Developing and implementing a new assessment system is much more complicated than adopting common standards. While other countries have elements of the various proposed assessment systems in place (and we’ve done pieces here), we’re going to be trying out a lot of new and different approaches (and if we aren’t it’s a big waste of money). It will already be a monumental feat for any state consortium to actually manage a four-year, $160 million research, development, and deployment process against an aggressive time line. Complicating the governance issues by doubling the number of states involved will increase the level of difficulty exponentially.

We can mitigate these risks by ensuring that the requirements for open platforms and shared infrastructure survive implementation (more here). We can also take some of the burden off the assessment system by using other measures, such as college outcomes data, to measure college readiness. Finally, the administration must also look beyond this one competition and ensure alignment of the various assessment-related research and development initiatives. While consortia must detail a theory of action in their proposals, the overall theory of change from the administration’s standpoint is still incomplete.

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