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In June, I spoke as the PARCC presentation expert for the National College and Career Readiness Conference held in Orlando. There, I introduced the PARCC Aligned Curriculum and Assessment Planners to nearly one-thousand attendees from every state in the union and some from beyond the borders. Participating alongside conference goers in sessions other than my own gave me an opportunity to not only glean the expertise of other session presenters (like Lavonna Roth, Vicki Davis, Dr. Tim McNamara to name a few), but also to get a sense of where our nation’s schools are in the Common Core transition process.
I was a bit surprised. I hail from Illinois, a state paralyzed by political stalemate and mired in financial mishandling. I sympathize with our teachers and the lack of support many are provided as they take on this awesome task. But sitting at tables with teachers from states with RTTT funding, I found my jaw dropping as I listened to some of their professional development stories. Illinois teachers and others out there who are worried they have fallen far behind in the Common Core implementation, don’t feel so alone.
Today I write for principals, teachers, and schools asking “How do we start the Common Core transition?”
In some cases I heard stories of schools and entire districts having had as much as two years of professional development in preparation for their transition to the Common Core yet not having actually read the standards. Some schools told me they have been developing curriculum maps of past practice. The next step, they think, is to look at the standards and identify the gaps between what they’ve been doing and what they need to be doing. Other teachers told stories of PD focused on the three-shifts (ELA and Math) or learning all about Webb’s Depth of Knowledge but all in a context outside of the Common Core Standards. Others were working on questioning techniques but hadn’t read the standards. Indeed, knowledge of these topics will impact teaching and learning. Noting their value, I have blogged on each in the past. And, I could be somewhat misinformed. Perhaps there was an expectation on the part of administration that the teachers were reading the standards on their own time in preparation for the district provided professional learning opportunities. I can’t know the “real” truth but only the truth as described by classroom teachers with whom I shared time and conversation. That being said, I also met many teachers who were well-read in the standards and Webb’s DOK, the shifts, questioning techniques, and even approaches to integrating the standards in developing unit plans. But today I write for teachers and schools who are still asking “How do we get started in the Common Core transition?”
First Priority: Read the Common Core State Standards
The Common Core Standards are all about getting students to readers and contemplate “complex text.” The standards themselves are complex. I hear some administrators say that rather than have their teachers dive into the standards, they are giving them snippets of the standards to read. They explain that today’s teachers are overwhelmed and in this piecemeal delivery system, they are protecting teachers from undue stress. I find that problematic. The standards are tightly bound both vertically and horizontally: between grades and within grades and among strands (reading, writing, speaking & listening, language). To piecemeal the standards out is to rob teachers of the experience the standards ask of kids: to be able to read an extended complex text. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying read them all in one sitting. But I am saying that teachers should be studying blocks of the standards purposefully.
Secondly: Familiarize yourself with your consortia’s item prototypes
What is a consortium? There are two consortia: PARCC and SBAC. PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness while SBAC stands for Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Each consortium is comprised by state membership. About half of the states are in either one or the other of these groups. Each group received a sizeable chunk of Federal dollars (about $350 millions) to write a progression of student assessments. Right now, the focus is writing the summative assessments which in reality are two assessments: a performance assessment given about 75% through the year and a fully computer scored assessment given at 90% through the year (both during 4th quarter).
What is a prototype? Prototypes are samples of what the consortia suggest test items on the summative assessments will look like. Prototypes are not set in stone; they were early samples (published in summer of 2012). These samples are useful. By looking at the samples, you will begin to see how different testing will be in 2015 compared to what testing has looked like before these next generation assessments. Test items and explanation can be found for various grades in math and ELA. These prototypes have been shared with the public and the test writers on the consortia’s websites.
To know where to find the your consortium’s prototytpes, you will need to know if you are a PARCC state or SBAC state? What follows is list of PARCC states with links to state DOEs: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey (Math, ELA) , New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. If you are a PARCC state, you can find the testing prototypes on their webpage under the PARCC assessments link on a page titled Item and Task Prototypes.
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SBAC currently has thirty-one member states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Links to SBAC’s item prototypes can be found on their website page entitled Sample Items and Performance Tasks.
I have given you state links because many states have powerful materials available to support the Common Core transition. However, if you haven’t heard much about the Common Core and haven’t read the standards, I suggest you postpone your visit to the state DOE and do more primary source reading before you begin looking through the materials on these websites.
- Third: Consult your Consortia’s Assessment Blueprints (Assessment Specifications)
Once you feel pretty confident about your grade-level standards, I suggest you take a look at the Assessment Blueprints. What are the Blueprints? Test blueprints specify the number of tasks a student will be asked to do on a test, the length of the texts and the types of the texts, the standards being assessed, the number of items associated with the standards’ assessment, and the item type: selected response, performance task, computer adaptive technology (SBAC only). In other words, the entire frame for the test without the actual texts and questions. PARCC’s Blueprints are the basis for the Curriculum & Assessment Planners.
PARCC and SBAC are in different places here. SBAC published their Blueprints last fall while the PARCC Blueprints were published April 30th. However, PARCC published a set of guidelines for each grade in each of the three assessment areas (literary analysis, narrative writing, and research simulation task). SBACC, on the other hand, has published a draft set of blueprints for grades 4, 8, and 11 representing elementary, middle, and high school. I don’t find the SBAC Blueprints nearly as teacher friendly as the PARCC Blueprints. Unlike PARCC which has separated out various component pieces of the Blueprints, the SBAC document is a single text.
My suggestion, if you are a PARCC state, go to one of these documents and read through the specifications of the assessment at your grade level: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-11. The narrative task and standards assessed only appears in the Grades 3-5 file, so you’ll need to visit that if you want to know more about the test specifications there. I have also read and written extensively on PARCC’s Assessment Blueprints as well as having designed a PARCC Frameworks and Blueprint Aligned Curriculum and Assessment Planner.
Fourth: Understand and Use the Evidence-Centered Design to write an assessment for your students
What is Evidence-Centered Design? Simply put, using this model, the assessment writer determines what claim the outcome of the assessment should support. After determining the claim, identify what standards or parts of standards need to be assessed as part of the claim, then determine what kind of assessment and text combination would cause students to show their skill at the particular claim. Essentially, backwards design. Decide what you want kids to know and be able to do, write the assessment and then, go teach it.
Once you understand grade level standards and you have seen what kinds of assessment expectations are being set by your consortia (both by having looked at the prototypes and by reading the Blueprints), begin to consider how you could formatively assess your students during your instructional process. Since the assessment they will see in 2015 is so very different from what they have seen in the past, why not try to mirror the style in your assessment. Both PARCC and SBAC combine selected response items (multiple choice) with constructed response. Students will read a cold text, respond to selected response items, and then write a constructed response. In my experience and in the experience of teachers I speak with, we never connected our multiple choice items with our short answer (selected response with constructed response). That however, is the intent of next generation tests. Students are learning through the assessment and being taken deeper into the text through questions BEFORE they write. As educators, we need to provide these kinds of processes for them in the formative assessments we generate in order to give them the practice and thinking skills they will need to be successful.
Fifth: Write the first unit for the school year
In the true spirit of backwards design, having come to understand the standards and having not only identified the standard/s over which you intend to assess your students but having also written the assessment, now plan the instruction.