Thompson's two strategies for meeting those
goals include adoption of common standards and the forming of two
consortia whose focus is development of new educational assessment
1. Adoption of new Common Core State
- Thompson said these new common core standards were developed by a
partnership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the
National Governors Association. They were written by Achieve, The
College Board and ACT, following U.S. Department of Education criteria
of higher, fewer, clearer standards that are internationally
- The new common standards have been adopted by 46 states and the
District of Columbia. Minnesota is one of four states that have not
adopted the standards, along with Texas, Virginia and Nebraska. These
four states believe they already have high standards customized to the
states' goals. Thompson agreed that Minnesota does have high standards,
especially in math.
- Common standards ensure that students are receiving a high quality
education, consistent from state-to-state and nationwide.
- The standards ensure that students are prepared for success in
postsecondary education and the workforce.
2. Creation of two state consortia.
Two consortia won the competition for two
$180 million grants from the U.S. Department of Education for developing
new educational assessment systems: Partnership for Assessment of
Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment
The federal grants require that these
next-generation assessment systems be implemented in the 2014-2015 school
The PARCC consortium. This consortium
represents 25 million students in 22 member states and the District of
Columbia. Its assessment system has four components:
- Performance-Based Assessment: Required; includes extended tasks
and applications of concepts and skills; done at end of school year;
represents total learning of students over the year; generates data for
- End-of-Year Assessment: Required; includes innovative,
computer-based test items; includes student growth data and data for
- Diagnostic Assessment: Optional; done at beginning of school
year; acts as early indicator of student knowledge and skills to inform
instruction, interventions and professional development during school
- Mid-Year Assessment: Optional; performance-based; emphasis on
hard-to measure standards; timely information to track students
throughout the year to allow appropriate adjustments, intervention and
An additional required component will assess
students' speaking and listening skills.
"They'll be much different from the tests
kids have been taking up to now," Thompson said of the new assessments.
They include new item types that reflect new common core standards,
critical and analytical thinking and 21st century skills.
The new tests will all be computer-based
tests and will incorporate digital technology and artificial intelligence
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
This consortium represents 19 million students in 25 states. Its
assessment system is based on four key premises and principles:
- Use computer adaptive testing. In this type of testing, when a
student takes a test, the next question is based on the student's
response to the current question; it continually adapts to present
students with test items best suited to their skill level. Also, the
test takes less time, because no questions are asked that are too easy
or too difficult for the individual student. The main downside of
computer-adaptive testing is that it requires a bigger test-item bank,
which Thompson said is more expensive to develop and maintain.
- Use assessment to inform instruction. Interim assessments during
the school year are a big part of the assessment system, as are assets
like model curriculum units and professional development tools and
- Involve teachers in test development and scoring. The Smarter
Balanced consortium requires that assessment contractors like Pearson
who are developing the next-generation assessments use local teachers to
perform 33 to 50 percent of the new item/task development. Teachers will
also score items and performance tasks for which AI scoring is
- Emphasize evidence-centered design and research-based approaches.
Based on these principles, the Smarter
Balanced assessment system comprises three components:
- End-of-Year Assessments. These are computer-adaptive tests,
covering English language assessment and math. They are used in grades 3
through 8 and in high school and are given during the last 12 weeks of
the school year.
- Performance Tasks. These are project and research-based tasks
involving multiple classroom sessions. They are designed to assess
students' critical and analytical thinking and 21st century skills.
- Interim Assessments. These are locally developed,
computer-adaptive tests given during the school year. They are designed
to measure a smaller set of standards to produce results that can be
used to inform instruction.
No contract with Minnesota. In response
to a question, Thompson noted that his company, Pearson, is active at the
consortia level, supporting both Smarter Balanced and PARCC, and at the
state level through contracts with 26 states to develop and administer
assessment tests to meet accountability requirements of No Child Left
Behind (NCLB). Pearson does not have a current contract with Minnesota,
which is not a member of either consortium. He said Pearson competes with
other similar assessment services companies to provide services to states
and the consortia.
Costs of assessments. An interviewer
commented that in Minnesota and many other states, the emphasis is on
cutting expenses, rather than adding them. Thompson replied that the
concept of the two consortia is that there will be efficiencies in
developing assessments, because they will be common among a group of
states. But, he said, "What's likely is that there will be better tests at
the same price or better tests for possibly a little higher cost."
He noted that states are not paying anything
for the assessment development. It's all federal money right now.
Local decisions. A questioner asked
Thompson to describe the kinds of decisions that would be made from these
assessments at the local level. Thompson replied, "It's not a national
curriculum. It's a common set of standards. How the schools teach to the
standards is their local decision. Curriculum, instruction, textbooks,
sequence and pace are all local decisions." That is a result of the
Constitution's granting to the states all powers not expressly granted to
the federal government.
An interviewer commented that it's important
to distinguish between what's taught and how it's taught. "Isn't what's
taught embedded in the common core standards, but how it's taught is up to
the local level? Doesn't it sound like what's taught is embedded in the
standards and assessments?"
"You're right," Thompson responded. "The
overarching framework of what is taught is incorporated and embedded in
the common core standards. How that is taught is still a local decision."
Role of teachers. The interviewer
continued. "It seems to me the people in this are operating on the
assumption that once they put the standards in, the students will learn.
In between the standards and the learning are what the students are
willing and able to do and what the teachers are willing and able to do."
Thompson relied, "It's a major challenge to
get teachers up to speed on the new common core standards. You've hit that
on the head."
Another interviewer commented that there was
a struggle in Minnesota for at least 10 to 15 years over different ways of
teaching math. He asked whether we're now at the point where the teaching
profession has come together to agree on what should be taught. "Is there
agreement? Is this what we want to do? Is this what we really want to
Thompson responded that 46 states have signed
on to the new common core state standards. Experts-the College Board, ACT
and Achieve-wrote the standards. "If anyone can do it they can," he said.
Timeline. In response to a question,
Thompson said the federal grant requires that the new standards and
assessments be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.
Technology needed for new tests. A
questioner asked whether there is a similar effort going forward to make
sure school districts have the minimum standards of technology for
implementing the new tests.
Thompson responded that both consortia
cooperated on one contract-awarded to Pearson-for a technology readiness
tool. Pearson developed a tool that states can make available for local
districts and local schools to use. It first performs an inventory of
technology available to implement the new assessments-e.g., number of
devices, operating system and bandwidth. The second step is for the
consortia to set minimum requirements based on the new assessments being
developed right now. "The assessments are technology intensive," he said.
"There are many devices in schools that won't support this next generation
Thompson said the third step is preparing a
gap analysis for each school between the technology inventoried in the
school and the minimum technology requirements for the new assessments.
Each school will get a report of the gap analysis. In addition, gap
analysis reports will be generated at the district, state and consortia
Common standards. An interviewer
commented that there has been considerable discussion about what should go
into the new standards. "On one side, some people have the fairly narrow
conception that it should just be academic knowledge and skills," he said.
"On the other side are people pushing 21st century skills supplementary to
that. It sounds like lots of 21st skills are being built into the new
standards and assessments."
Thompson replied that the new standards
"absolutely reflect critical and analytical thinking and 21st century
skills to a much greater degree than current standards." He said 21st
century skills include such skills as technology savvy, working in groups,
communication, and life skills such as financial literacy.
Need for old assessments. In response to
a question, Thompson noted that that while the promise of the new
assessments is to measure college and career readiness, there will still
be a need for traditional assessments such as the ACT, SAT, and National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The roles of these assessments
are likely to change or be redefined in the new landscape of next-
Teacher assessments. Thompson said the
assessment of teachers is a big part of the Race-to-the-Top funding. One
of the criteria for receiving Race-to-the-Top grants is developing and
implementing new educator effectiveness programs. "That's happening right
now and it's very controversial," he said. "That was one of the big issues
in the Chicago public schools strike."
He asserted that the new comprehensive
assessment systems have the capability to generate the data needed to
evaluate teachers relative to the performance of the students they teach.
"That can go into the teacher evaluations," he said. "One component of a
teacher's evaluation will be how well that teacher's students did on the
He discussed the concept of "value-added." If
you look at where an individual student came in and where they came out,
you can precisely focus on what value was added by the teacher. The goal
is that students will have achieved progress toward college and career
readiness as measured by the assessments.
A questioner asked, "Is the teacher evaluated
on where the student is against the standards or how much they've moved
them, regardless of what the goal may be?"
Thompson answered that the future system goal
is that the teacher will be evaluated on the individual progress of each
student-where they come in and where they come out. With current
assessments, we just look at the whole cohort and whether they are
Grade level vs. individualized teaching.
An interviewer commented that there is a question over whether the
teaching is to grade level or whether the teaching is individualized. He
said most of what teachers are told to do is to teach to the grade level.
"All I hear about the assessments has all been about grade level," he
said. "Assessment leaders say that's the way the system is. How do we get
to individualizing the learning and not just the assessments?"
Thompson said the new assessments will stay
with the grade-level system. Interim assessments will show if a student is
behind in math, for example. That will be linked to remedial resources and
an intervention can be made. That's individualized learning driven by
assessment, but still within a grade-level concept, he said.
Online learning. An interviewer noted
that teachers spend their time preparing and delivering lectures. He
asked, "Is it your feeling that technology that replaces teachers for the
lectures with a nationally known lecturer is coming?"
In the postsecondary world, Thompson said,
there is a trend toward developing courses digitally. There's a new
concept evolving-massively open online courses (MOOCs), which Stanford,
MIT, Harvard and Coursera. They're taking their top instructors and
developing online courses that are available worldwide and are virtually
free. "The possibilities are endless," he said. "We can look at the
opportunities the MOOCs offer and see the future."
College-ready vs. career-ready. An
interviewer noted that it seems that "college-ready" and "career-ready"
are thought of as the same thing. He asked if there is any effort in the
assessments to separate college-ready vs. career-ready and whether there
will be any distinction in the standards or assessments.
Thompson said it hasn't been determined yet
whether and how the 2014 standards might be different between
college-ready and career-ready. That will be done at the consortia level.
Mandate for change. An interviewer
commented that there will have to be preparation for transformation in
college programs of education to fit with the new standards and
assessments. "There's a mandate going on here, big time-either at the
national level or state level," he said.
Universal assessment. In response to a
question, Thompson said the new assessments will not use sampling, but
will be universal.
Exposure of failure. One interviewer
noted that some people looking at the new assessments are saying, "Brace
yourselves, states, because the first result is going to expose a lot more
of the failure that's out there in the American student population."