Do PARCC and Smarter Balanced truly assess 'deeper understanding'?

by: Andrew Howard on May 7, 2013 8:56:00 AM

PARCC rigorState standardized tests seem to serve only as a scorecard, rarely helping educators to improve student-learning outcomes. Data and results can take months to return to educators, and when the data does arrive, it is often very vague and incapable of assisting the development of a ‘high-quality’ education.

describe the imageSo, the logical question on everyone’s mind is: Will the Common Core assessments, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, truly help teachers and administrators evaluate the deeper understanding and mastery levels required by the Common Core standards?

Evaluating ‘deeper understanding’

A recent study by UCLA’s National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) gives educators one of the first true insights into the Next Generation assessments' ability to evaluate higher order skills. Specifically, the study suggests the two consortiums are moving deeper understanding assessment forward “substantially.”

CRESST’s study uses a 2012 RAND Education study on prior state standard assessment selections as a baseline to evaluate PARCC and Smarter Balanced’s advances in evaluating higher-level mastery. Alarmingly,the RAND study mentioned the prior assessment selections only identify students’ basic understanding levels, or as the study puts it, solely require students to utilize DOK1 and DOK 2 level functions, per Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) classification scheme (as seen below). 

Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Levels

dok levels

Reaching beyond memorization and basic skills

The RAND study went on to note that “0%” of the prior selected responses actually assess higher-level mathematics understanding and application (DOK 3 and DOK 4). In turn, CRESST found that the available sample PARCC and Smarter Balanced selections not only assess DOK 3 and DOK 4 levels, but students will be 100% “accountable” for deeper learning knowledge (when compared to the scale from the RAND 2012 study).

The findings seem to indicate the Common Core assessments will move needed instruction away from the ‘teach to the test’ mantra, and instead will require educators to promote the ‘college-ready’ and real-life application skills of reasoning, inquiry, and evaluation needed for deeper understanding.

Encouragement and challenges for schools

This study is a welcoming sign for educators who have clamored years and years against solely teaching memorization and basic skills. However, CRESST is also quick to note that their studies were only conducted using the limited scope resources and sample questions provided by PARCC and Smarter Balanced thus far. 

Overall, the results seem to offer good news on the direction and scope behind the Common Core-adopted Next Generation assessments. But, the increased rigor that is seemingly required by PARCC and Smarter Balanced will likely force educators to further examine whether their students are prepared to be assessed at such a deep level.


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Topics: Common Core Assessments