Amid all the drama about the new assessments, there was an interesting tidbit of potentially game-changing information released last week by Education Week. Catherine Gewertz reported that two public colleges in Colorado will be the first to consider PARCC scores in course-placement decisions, joining schools in Washington and West Virginia who pledged to do the same with Smarter Balanced scores.
The Common Core Standards were designed to prepare students for college-level work. The idea is that the standards don’t just ask students to take on more difficult tasks but that the tasks they are being asked to take on are more coherently aligned to the work students will face in college. The shift towards more informational text, for example, represents an understanding that in college and careers, people today need to be able to grapple with a wide range of complex informational text, so the curriculum in high school needs to better reflect that.
The new assessments, then, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, were designed to measure students’ proficiency at those better-aligned skills. And their cut scores (passing/failing scores) were supposed to indicate whether students had achieved proficiency that would equate with college readiness. Previously, states designed their own exams and set their own cut scores, and many, many students who had passed their state high school proficiency exams found themselves dismayed by college placement exams that determined they needed developmental work.
Will articulation between these assessments and colleges and universities really take hold? That probably depends on whether the exams actually do a good job of measuring the skills colleges want to see in their students. The verdict on that is still out, as we await the outcome of this first round of testing and the announcement of the PARCC cut scores.
Still, what most teachers in K-12 want is to be sure that they are preparing students well for their futures. A test that gives teachers feedback on that outcome and allows teachers, schools, and districts to modify their instruction and curriculum to meet that goal will be welcome.
Teachers who teach AP classes work hard to teach to the test and are delighted when their students score well enough to earn college credit. The new assessments have the potential to be a meaningful marker to all stakeholders: teachers and schools will know that they have made good on their promises to their students, and students (and their parents) will know that they leave high school prepared for their lives ahead.