The Right Trajectory – State Teachers of the Year Compare Former and New State Assessments

The Right Trajectory – State Teachers of the Year Compare Former and New State Assessments

This LatestCounsel post was written by Terri Taylor, Policy & Legal Advisor.

nnstoyEducationCounsel has been supporting the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) to study what excellent teachers think about assessments, given the opportunity to perform a close, side-by-side analysis of the new and old tests. We were particularly interested in their thoughts about the quality and utility of the new assessments compared to the prior state tests. After all, teachers can be powerful champions for good assessment. As those closest to the process of preparing for and administering assessments, teachers have essential perspectives that parents, students, and other educators trust. Moreover, teachers can uniquely explain whether an assessment reflects good classroom practice and asks students to demonstrate what they know and can do.

Twenty-three former state teachers of the year and finalists from 12 states and DC participated on two different review panels for fifth grade reading and math assessments. The first panel reviewed PARCC and prior state assessments from Illinois and New Jersey (both of which administered PARCC in 2014-15). The second panel reviewed Smarter Balanced and prior state assessment forms from Delaware and New Hampshire (both of which administered Smarter Balanced in 2014-15). Each teacher spent at least 20 hours training, taking the tests, reviewing the tests for complexity, and sharing their analysis through a survey and a focus group discussion.

The results were clear: Participating teachers found that new consortia assessments – both PARCC and Smarter Balanced – represent a meaningful step forward for teaching and learning. Specifically, they found that:

  1. The new consortia assessments better reflect the range of reading and math knowledge and skills that all students should master.
  2. The new consortia assessments include items that better reflect the full range of cognitive complexity and balance “recall” questions with questions that require deeper analysis.
  3. The new consortia assessments better align with strong instructional practices these expert teachers believe should be used in the classroom, and thereby better support great teaching and learning throughout the school year.
  4. The new consortia assessments provide information relevant to a wide range of performers, particularly moderate and high-performers.
  5. While the new consortia assessments are more rigorous and demanding, they are grade-level appropriate, and even more so than prior state tests.

As a result, teachers encouraged educators and policymakers to stay the course and support the transition, particularly by providing supports for the shifts in teaching and learning that these assessments require. As one teacher observed, “In 5 years, our kids could get to that high bar that’s implicated in PARCC.  Just give them time!  I would be so proud to teach to the PARCC test.”

The NNSTOY report joins other efforts intended to shed new light on the new assessments, notably including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s forthcoming study about the content and depth, accessibility, and overall strengths and weaknesses of several new assessments. (A preview of that study was released in late October.) Though these studies serve different purposes, they can each shed unique light on assessment and help inform movement toward continuous improvement. As participating teachers in the NNSTOY study observed, “We aren’t there yet, but we’re on the right trajectory.” Through careful implementation, strong support for educators and students, effective communications, and a commitment from everyone to continue to grow, these excellent teachers believe that the assessment transition can be a real success.

The Right Trajectory is available at:

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