Common Core

Why one Common Core test should match the national exam known as the Nation’s Report Card, and one might not

In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2015, sixth grader Alex Greuey, 11, reads through a problem in the English Language Arts section of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test as he and his classmates practice for the Common Core State Standards Exams at Morgan Elementary School South in Stockport, Ohio.

In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2015, sixth grader Alex Greuey, 11, reads through a problem in the English Language Arts section of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test as he and his classmates practice for the Common Core State Standards Exams at Morgan Elementary School South in Stockport, Ohio.

For years, there has been a gulf between the sunny results on state tests that show the majority of students are doing just fine and the much lower performance on the tough national exam, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). As the scores on new, tougher Common Core tests are revealed this year advocates are hopeful that gap will shrink.

But it’s likely that the results of only one of the new Common Core tests will align closely to the NAEP, known as the nation’s report card. A larger number of states taking a different Common Core test will probably still continue to see a mismatch between the NAEP and their own state exams.*

Related: New Mexico fights to get out of last place with aggressive policies that some educators worry could harm students

Representatives from both of the groups that created the two most popular Common Core tests adopted by states, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, explained why this week at a workshop hosted by the National Academy of Science’s Committee on the Evaluation of NAEP Achievement Levels in Reading and Math.

PARCC used NAEP as a major resource to determine benchmarks for college and career readiness in high school. The other test makers went a different direction and primarily relied on feedback from teachers and college faculty to determine what skills they would expect a student at each grade level to be able to demonstrate.*

Smarter Balanced only used a few questions from NAEP in its 2014 field test, which was used to set standards for this year’s exam. “We thought it was important during standard setting that this was about the Smarter Balanced assessment,” said Jacqueline King, director of higher education collaboration for the consortium. “You want them to look at that external data but you don’t want it to drive the decision making.”

Related: Why are so many states replacing Common Core with carbon copies?

In fact, King thinks that one of the challenges that lies ahead for the Smarter Balanced test is helping people understand why it won’t mirror the 2015 NAEP results, although she didn’t say if she expects the scores to be higher or lower than the national exam. “People are going to want to see that nice, neat symmetry,” she said. “It’s going to be a job to explain why in all cases likely they… won’t match up.”

PARCC, on the other hand, will be setting its cut scores for the 11th grade test this summer using information from NAEP’s 12th grade exams. A score of 4 or 5 on PARCC will mean a student has a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher in an entry level, credit-bearing college course, according to Enis Dogan, associate director at PARCC.

Dogan said they expect 35 to 45 percent of high schoolers to be college and career ready, and added that they will be watching to see what happens in the future. “I’m very curious if we will see gains on the NAEP that are in line with PARCC assessments,” he said. If PARCC sees gains over time that aren’t reflected on NAEP, “that may be a more difficult question to be answered.”

*Update: Since publishing the story, we’ve heard from both testing consortia with more information about how they created the tests and how they’ll be shaped going forward. Although Smarter Balanced scores will vary, King said in a phone call she doesn’t expect them to be “wildly different” from the national assessment. 

PARCC officials say they will be going through a standard setting process with educators, including teachers and college professors, this summer, similar to what Smarter Balanced has already done. The article has been changed to clarify that they have not predicted how many students will reach specific levels on PARCC, but have looked at other assessments such as NAEP to estimate how many high schoolers are college and career ready. 

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Sarah Butrymowicz

Sarah Butrymowicz is data editor. Prior to falling in love with spreadsheets and statistics, she spent four years as a staff writer for The Hechinger… See Archive

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