Parents and guardians play a huge role in supporting educational reform movements. It is important to us that parents receive answers to their question concerning educational initiatives happening in their community or state. We sat down with several parent groups to learn what they want to know about the assessment consortia. And, here are their top five questions and our responses.

When do these tests start?

Common Core Assessments will be available to all states next school year (2014-15). States participating in the Common Core Initiative have the option of using assessments designed from the SMARTER Balanced or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium. This new generation of mathematics and English language arts (ELA) assessments will cover all students in grades three through eight and be used at least once in high school.

Which assessment consortium is better and what is the difference?

There is no evidence yet to determine which association is the “best” option per-say. Both organizations offer similar testing services at the elementary school level; however; their approach differs in the secondary level. SMARTER Balanced plans to offer a summative assessment for students in grade 11 only. Whereas, PARCC will assess students in ELA in grades 9-11, and use end-of-course tests in Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2.

 It will take time to determine which consortium has the better assessment system. Until that information is collected, we will just have to wait and see.

Do states oversee their assessment system? Or, is it now run by the consortia?

All states have complete authority over their testing system. States retain the right to supplement test questions (items) and determine assessment policies and guidelines. They even have the option of opting out of the assessment consortia if they choose.  Basically, the two consortia are the assessment authors. PARCC and SMARTER Balanced were contracted to develop assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – that is it.

What skills are SMARTER Balanced’s and PARCC’s assessing?

The new assessment from SMARTER Balanced and PARCC- will measure high-order thinking skills, specifically:

  • Recall –Summon prior knowledge
  • Application Use a concept in a new situation
  • Reasoning & Inference –Formalize a conclusion or a premise from facts
  • Abstract Thinking –Convert “intangible” concepts to concrete ideas or theories
  • Synthesis Blend two ideas or concepts to form a new theory or new knowledge

These skills (listed above) are the “high demand” competencies that children need to be successful after high school. It is believed that students that are proficient in these areas are more likely to succeed in a post-secondary option or to be employed in a high-tech job.

 What is wrong with the old test?

Traditional standardize assessments (i.e., bubble or fill-in blank test) measure a student’s ability to remember or memorize information they have learned. While memorization is important, it is not a true measure of a learner’s aptitude. Moreover, these  tests do not  provide parents with any evidence that their child can utilize basic  or higher-order skills to earn a post-secondary degree or secure a job in this economy. No longer is it enough for children to simply know basic facts. To be a successful student, he or she must be adept in using higher-order thinking skills.

In short, these new tests (performance-tasks from the consortia) will measure if students can draw on their high-order thinking skills. Scores from these assessments will show to what extent each student is on-track to be college and career ready.


  • Herman, J. and R. Linn (2013, January). Products: Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.cse.ucla:
  • Image courtesy of 1shots /

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