The Changing Face of Testing

by | Nov 3, 2016 | Blog, Legislative, News

Stanford Publisher Among Those Providing
Common Core Materials

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation precipitated a major shift in testing when it was signed by President Bush in 2002.  Prior, annual testing was primarily via standardized achievement tests, which were designed to measure a student’s academic knowledge compared with other students nationwide. Achievement tests were also nationally-normed so that a particular curriculum or student background would not statistically affect the comparison scores.

In stark contrast, the stated purpose of NCLB testing was to assess mastery of specific curriculum content.  NCLB required states to develop standards – i.e., specific subject content – for teaching, then assess by means of content-based exams such as the WESTEST whether those standards had been met.  Although in and of itself this was not bad, tests like the WESTEST were far different from previous achievement tests because they intentionally tested the specific material covered in a given state’s public school classrooms.

Since these new tests were directly tied to receiving federal funds, they inadvertently drew attention and funds away from the traditional and reliable nationally-normed standardized tests.  Educators knew the value of achievement tests, but federal funding largely dwarfed their use.

As a result, the publishers of these expensive-to-produce nationally-normed tests suffered a shrinking market and published fewer updated versions. The combination of our state law’s assessment requirement and its ten-year publishing/norm date stipulation made this turn of events a WV homeschool issue. 

For example, Pearson, publisher of the Stanford test, announced last year that they would no longer provide and support the Stanford 10 test. While Pearson subsequently changed its mind, the most recent Stanford version was normed in 2007, which means this is the last school year it can be used by WV homeschoolers. Pearson could choose to re-norm it or publish a newer version, but that doesn’t seem likely.

For the economic reasons described, test publishers must decide whether to continue offering the expensive-to-produce achievement tests or to compete in the Common Core market instead. Pearson was awarded a contract in 2014 to administer tests aligned with the Common Core Standards, a project described as being of “unprecedented scale” in the U.S. testing arena. The contract is associated with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, one of two main consortia of states creating exams to match Common Core State Standards (the other being Smarter Balanced, in which WV participates). Under the contract, Pearson will develop test items, paper-and-pencil tests, and computerized tests that align with CCSS. Pearson appears focused on Common Core rather than the traditional achievement testing that gave rise to their Stanford test. Pearson has recently lost some state contracts; whether this development keeps the traditional Stanford on their radar screen is still to be determined.

What does all this mean?  It appears that most publishers of standardized tests are caving in to the Common Core market.  Besides the difficulty of finding a recently normed standardized test, homeschoolers now have to work hard to find one that isn’t aligned with the Common Core Standards. Yet the landscape could change as a result of a growing, credible back-lash from dissatisfied educators, informed parents, and Constitutional conservatives against Common Core.  Nevertheless, because federal money continues to drive and fund Common core, the state-by-state pushback is slow to regain ground.  

We expect that once the Stanford 10 is too old to use (after this year), the highly respected Stanford option will be gone for WV homeschoolers.  We do expect Pearson to soon offer an alternative standardized test, but it will likely be similar to WV’s new General Summative Assessment – which is basically a Common Core test rather than a traditional achievement test.  

Right now, CHEWV is pleased that Riverside Publishing has decided to take a risk and keep their newest IOWA only partially aligned to CCSS and looking much like the traditional tests that have been trusted through the years.  CHEWV will continue to stay abreast, as much as possible, with what is happening in testing.  Among the tests available which satisfy our state law, we are committed to providing the best testing option possible to West Virginia homeschooling families.