Consortium Releases Technology Guidelines for Common-Core Tests

One of the two consortia designing tests for the Common Core State Standards has released new guidance on the minimum technology standards states will need to meet to give those tests, beginning in 2014-15.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers said the guidance, unveiled late Friday afternoon, is meant to provide direction to states and districts on the extent to which current technology meets testing standards, or whether upgrades will be required.

The document offers both “minimum specifications,” that would satisfy the consortium’s tech guidelines at least through 2014-15, and “recommended” ones, which would be expected to meet the state group’s standards through the 2018-19 school year.

Earlier this month, the other group leading states toward the development of tests to match the Common Core, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, released its own list of technology requirements and recommendations for 2014-15.

The new PARCC guidelines are “very similar” to the Smarter Balanced requirements, said Susan Van Gundy, associate director for assessment technology at Achieve, an organization that is managing the partnership consortium’s work.

One of the requirements focuses on test security. All devices used during the tests—whether laptops, netbooks, tablets—and operating systems must have the capability to “lock down” and temporarily disable features that present a security risk while exams are being given. Certain features would also need to be controlled during test administration, including unlimited Internet access, certain types of cameras, screen captures, e-mail, and instant-messaging, the requirements say. (Read more.)

Via Sean Cavanagh, Education Week.

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New College-Readiness Tracking System Under Study

 A new way to track high school students’ readiness for college and trigger earlier intervention is being studied at Stanford University.

The College Readiness Indicator System initiative was developed at the John Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford and is being tested at schools in Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Calif., and New York City. A paper by Oded Gurantz and Gradeila Borsato explores lessons from the first two years of testing the initiative.

The idea behind the system is that grades and student performance alone are not enough to determine college readiness. And schools can be more effective using a model that allows them to engage proactively with students before they go off-track.

The indicator system measures three areas:

1. Academic preparedness – as reflected in grade point average and availability of Advanced Placement courses.

2. Academic tenacity – using attendance or disciplinary infractions to demonstrate effort.

3. College knowledge – understanding financial requirements for college and other skills needed to access and navigate college.

The new system also considers progress on these indicators at the individual student level, in the classroom (resources and opportunities provided), and at the system level (policies and funding for supports, such as counselors).

Its design is intended to be flexible so districts can use indicators that work best in their local context. In the pilot, the system was adapted differently in each of the four districts, but with the same goal of better linking high school work to postsecondary expectations. (Read more.)

Via Caralee Adams, Education Week.

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ACT Finds Most Students Still Not Ready for College

Student performance on the ACT essentially held steady this year, with slight improvement shown in the math and science parts of the college-entrance exam.

Still, 60 percent of the class of 2012 that took the test failed to meet benchmarks in two of the four subjects tested, putting them in jeopardy of failing in their pursuit of a college degree and careers.

The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012, released today by the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing organization ACT Inc., includes performance information from students in the spring graduating class who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors. This year, 1.67 million seniors or 52 percent of the U.S. graduating class took the exam.

“I was hoping with the focus [in the education community] on career and college readiness, we’d start to see a more dramatic improvement. We are still early in that,” said ACT President Jon Erickson. A greater focus on career and college standards and more attention to teacher professional development are encouraging signs, he added, but the output from a graduating class is not apparent yet.

The average composite score was 21.1—the same as it has been for the past five years. A perfect score is 36.

ACT Inc. has set “college-readiness benchmarks” in the four subjects it tests: English/language arts, reading, mathematics, and science. That is the measure needed to predict a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course.

In this year’s report, 25 percent of all tested high school graduates met the mark in all four subjects—the same percentage as last year. It had steadily climbed in the previous three years.

Fifteen percent of the test-takers met one subject benchmark, 17 percent met two, and 15 percent met three. Twenty-eight percent failed to meet the minimum standard in any area. <Read more.>

Via Caralee J. Adams, Education Week.

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Struggling for Students’ Readiness

The majority of Texas students do not leave public schools prepared for college.

Fewer than one in two students met the state’s “college readiness” standards in math and verbal skills on ACT, SAT and TAKS scores in 2010. Though average SAT scores in both verbal and math dropped between 2007 and 2010 — a trend that state education officials have attributed to an increase in students taking the test — more students in the same period of time have met the state’s standards for college-ready graduates, largely because of improvements on their state standardized tests and the ACT.

But that increase is only a slim silver lining in what appears to be a large storm cloud.

“It’s still pathetic,” Dominic Chavez, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman, said of the ACT scores. “It’s still a very low number, and nobody is satisfied with it.”

Getting to a number that is satisfying is a task that policy makers, educators and the business community have grappled with for years. And although the current data show that something is not going right, pinpointing why is difficult. Part of the trouble is that while it is easy to define what skills students need to be successful in college, so far the measures used to assess the ways they lack those skills have returned an incomplete picture.

Debates over lagging performance at community colleges and four-year institutions can devolve into finger-pointing between the higher education and K-12 camps, each blaming the other for students’ poor performance at the postsecondary level. (Read more.)

Via Morgan Smith, The New York Times.

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Learning Matters: Rethinking Basic Skills In Community Colleges (2012)

According to Stan Jones of Complete College America, U.S. taxpayers are spending close to $3 billion per year on supporting remedial classes at the community college level. Remedial courses — designed to help students catch up, and often taken on a non-credit basis — often aren’t successful at preparing students for their primary, credit-earning coursework.

At the same time, though, the presence of remedial classes is often a cash cow for the colleges; the courses can end up providing funding to other areas.

What can be done to improve the situation? Producer John Tulenko traveled to two community colleges in Maryland that are taking different approaches to the problem.

Via You Tube.