Assessments and the Common Core

When I work with partners these days, questions about the Common Core and its implications for assessment always come up. I like to answer these questions simply and conceptually knowing that this topic is complex and the devil is always in the details.

Implementing the Common Core fundamentally requires changes in content and rigor. A refocusing. Going deeper to generate more learning about some things while minimizing time spent teaching less important things. The Common Core defines the important content; it doesn’t measure it.

The two main implications of changing standards on assessments are: 1) there may be some required content that students did not see before, and 2) the questions in the assessment need to change somewhat to match the content and depth required. As with some content today, there are some areas that can’t be easily assessed and everyone is working on ways to measure the currently unmeasured – either the content itself, or the depth of knowledge of the content needed.

Our MAP assessment measures knowledge and reports the results on the RIT scale. Every question in our question bank is calibrated to that scale. Because standards define content, we select certain questions from the bank to include in the test and leave other questions behind that measure topics not in the standard. Selecting the questions we put into the test doesn’t impact our scale or the difficulty of a question.

The revised standards might mean that a student has a content hole to fill or a knowledge level that needs to go deeper to meet the revised standard. However, since the student’s current knowledge level doesn’t change, we don’t expect a student’s RIT score to change much either. If we are assessing something new that the student doesn’t know, we’d expect them to get the question wrong; however, the adaptive nature of the test ensures a broad coverage of the standards and will still provide an accurate indication of what the student does know.

Well, what about the implications of “increased rigor and higher standards” on accountability? A lot of this will show up once the Common Core cut scores are actually set since it’s the measurement tool and the cut scores that really define the acceptable levels of knowledge. Even with rigorous content, easy cut scores are possible. So are ones that are that are unreasonable. Or ones that are inconsistent between grades.

Since the RIT scale isn’t changing, as soon as we have enough data, we will complete the linking study to create the cross-walk between our scale and the Common Core cut scores just like we do for state tests today. If you want to get a jump on the implications for you, look at our alignment study with the ACT college readiness benchmarks. Setting your sights on cut scores in the range of the current 70th to 80th percentile should point you in the right direction for the future.