Students in most of the United States are preparing to take standardized tests associated with the federal Common Core standards using a computer monitor and mouse rather than with paper and pencil. By the end of the school year, 12 million children across 29 states and the District of Columbia will have taken the exams this way.
It is expected that the new exams will be harder than the ones they are replacing. Some states will need to add additional hours of testing time because students will need to do more than merely fill in bubbles. The goal of the new exams is to test students' critical thinking skills, which means students must describe their reasoning and show their work while solving problems.
The tests are comprised of multimedia components, written essays and multi-step calculations for math problems. Some states will offer adaptive exams that offer easier or harder questions to students, depending on their answers.
However, the new tests do not come without controversy. Despite the Common Core standards being adopted in over 40 states across the country, some have decided to not participate in the testing — known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Instead, those states will be offering their state standardized tests, also new this year, writes Kimberly Hefling for ABC News.
Meanwhile, the Common Core tests fulfill requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act needed pertaining to annual testing in reading and math between grades three and eight as well as during the high school years. However, this too has sparked a debate as Congress looks to rewrite that law, causing many to feel that the tests should not be required and that students are tested too much. Many parents across the country have joined a growing movement to "opt-out" of the testing.
Questions have also been raised concerning the keyboarding skills of students as well as each schools' computer capacities, and the ability of these exams to help close the education gap lingering between rich and poor students.
"I think there's little evidence that having large-scale testing has helped these students to fundamentally change," said Drew Gitomer, an education professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in New Brunswick. "We may have certain increases in certain areas, but by and large, achievement gaps persist."
Gitomer went on to say that low-income students tend to face more hunger, stress and abuse at home than their higher-income peers. All of this tends to cause issues at school for them. She believes that higher standards and harder exams could end up extending those gaps, writes Kala Kachmar for The Courier-Post.
The fourth annual Principals' Assessment of Public Education survey, which surveyed 539 principals across the country, found the main priority of many principals to be increasing bandwidth at their schools in order to ensure the Common Core exams can be properly implemented.