Even as we continue to analyze the latest round of DCAS data and await detailed school-by-school results, work is underway on the future Delaware state assessment.
One of two multi-state assessment consortia formed in the wake of Race to the Top, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is developing ELA and math assessments that are aligned to both the Common Core and college readiness expectations. In September 2011, Delaware officially signed on as a governing member of SBAC, and is one of 27 states participating in its development and eventual implementation. This summer, teachers from SBAC governing states are working to develop over 5,000 test items for the assessment that will be ready for field testing as early as next school year.
DCAS has been a gradual departure from the traditional model of standardized tests. Like its predecessor, the DSTP, most questions on the DCAS are multiple choice questions, with occasional items that better utilize the functionality of a computer-based exam (eg, math questions that require student to graph or science questions predicting the effect of a physical phenomenon). Smarter Balanced will continue this evolution, replacing selected-response questions with primarily constructed-response questions. Like the Common Core itself, Smarter Balanced will test not only factual recall but problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, too. Each test will also include multiple “performance tasks” – multi-step extended-response questions that will ask students to analyze new information and apply existing knowledge to a real-world scenario.
Field testing – non-graded questions included in the DCAS – will commence this upcoming school year, with full implementation planned for the 2014-15 school year. We know successful implementation will require additional work from teachers, administrators, and the Delaware Department of Education, particularly in a few key areas:
- Communication: One success of RTTT has been the state’s commitment to data-informed instruction. In converting to the new assessment, it is important that SBAC is presented as an iterative improvement of DCAS that will offer teachers more helpful data and more rigorous support materials.
- Alignment: Because SBAC is formulating a national test, and because test items are being written from scratch, we need to expect full and thorough alignment with the Common Core by 2014. While it has always been the goal to align DCAS with Common Core by this time, we should expect neither wiggle room for implementation nor overlap with current state standards.
- Reporting: Last year, we noted that the new state assessment represented a reset for student performance data. Because the new test held students to a higher bar, there was not a fair or rigorous way to analyze year-over-year growth. Will there be a way to compare data pre- and post-SBAC implementation? If not, how will that effect testing over the next two school years? And, most importantly, how will we stack up against other states once we finally have an apples-to-apples comparison?
- Performance Tasks: Most students do not have experience with performance-task assessments. For that reason, it will be important for teachers to prepare students with practice assessments and other test-taking strategies. We know preparing students for item types is an important part of standardized assessment; when students take a test unprepared for the question types, it is impossible to determine whether represent a knowledge or assessment problem.
Many of these same concerns were raised about the DCAS years ago. I’ve administered the DCAS for two years now and used the data it produces in my classroom frequently. While there were some bumps along the road, the DCAS has become a tremendously useful tool in unit preparation. With training, clear communication, and teacher involvement, I am confident SBAC as well will further both data-driven instruction and student achievement.