LJWorld.com weblogs First Bell
Declining test scores in some states may be a precursor for Kansas
News has already started coming from other states about how new tests aligned to the Common Core standards in reading and math are producing dramatically lower test scores.
In New York City, for example, where public schools are actually a division within city government, this year's sudden drop in test scores was so dramatic that some people think it could tarnish the legacy of outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and could have an impact on the upcoming mayoral election to replace Bloomberg.
State officials in Maryland, Connecticut and a few other places also are reporting lower test scores as a result of the Common Core, even though those states haven't yet adopted new tests. Officials are arguing that there is now a mismatch between the new standards being taught in classrooms and old tests aligned to the old standards.
In Kansas, results from the 2013 tests won't be released until November, but some officials think it's possible that a similar trend will emerge here. And it may become more pronounced over the next two years as the state transitions to a new test that will be fully in place by 2015.
The Kansas State Department of Education currently contracts with Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation to build and administer all of its standardized tests. Those tests, which are all machine-graded multiple-choice exams, are designed to fit the old reading and math standards in place before the Common Core standards were adopted in October 2010.
But Kansas also is working with a group of states called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in developing new tests to go along with the Common Core standards. SBAC is one of two consortia that has received federal grants to develop the new tests.
Reading and math tests are given each year in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. Last spring, while most Kansas students took the old tests, a sampling of 9,242 students from selected buildings in 68 school districts, took part in a pilot test of the new Smarter Balanced exams.
Results of those tests will not be included in the results the state reports this fall. The pilot test was designed mainly to check the validity of certain items on the exam.
Starting this spring, however, the whole testing environment will really change. That's when most students throughout the state will take a “transitional test” being developed by CETE. As in the past, it will still be a multiple-choice test, but KU officials say it will be aligned to the new – and supposedly more rigorous – Common Core standards.
In addition, about 10 percent of students statewide will take part in a full-scale “field test” this spring of the Smarter Balanced assessment. Theoretically, that test will be more difficult and will require much more engagement by students beyond just picking answers A, B, C or D.
Those test results will be reported in the fall of 2014, and that's when the public will start to see how much of an impact the new standards have on test scores.
The Kansas State Board of Education hasn't yet decided whether it will adopt the Smarter Balanced tests when the final version becomes available for the 2014-15 school year. The board is expected to make that decision later this fall, probably around the same time they release last year's test results.
Other options include continuing to have CETE develop and administer tests; selecting some other contractor such as ACT; or using a “hybrid” system where the state adopts one default test, but allows districts to pick a different test if they want, as long as it's one recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Just as a point of reference, in 2012 about 89 percent of Kansas eighth graders met or exceeded the state standards in English language arts, and about 85 percent met or exceeded the state's math standards.
If the trends being seen in other states is any indicator, those numbers are likely to drop, perhaps significantly, when the Common Core tests go into full force in 2015.