Secretary Duncan: New Assessments Prepare Students for College and Careers

In a speech hosted by Achieve last week, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly emphasized the goal of preparing students for colleges and careers.  Secretary Duncan’s speech was primarily about state consortia working together to create common, rigorous assessments, and he mentioned college- and career-readiness 18 times, framing it as a central goal of developing common standards and assessments. 

Secretary Duncan announced that two consortia of states won funds to develop and implement assessment systems in English/language arts and mathematics.  The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, has 26 members, and won a $170 million award.  The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, which has 31 members, won a $160 million award.

Secretary Duncan praised state consortia for planning common assessments that will accurately measure college- and career-readiness and identify students who need additional academic support. “For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know if students are on-track for colleges and careers – and if they are ready to enter college without the need for remedial instruction.”[1] The new common assessments will be designed to measure students’ skills with more accuracy and depth, and Secretary Duncan indicated that educators will be able to use assessments to monitor student growth throughout the year, instead of solely at the end of the year.

How do educators know that the new standards and assessments will properly prepare students for college?  The two state consortia that were selected as Race to the Top assessment grant winners enlisted the help of universities to determine what students need to know before they get to college, Secretary Duncan said.  “Colleges agreed to work with consortia to define what it means to be college ready on the new high school assessments.”[1] PARCC received support from post-secondary schools that enroll 90% of their member states’ students who directly matriculate to college.  The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium has created agreements with post-secondary schools that enroll 75% of students who directly matriculate to college within their member states.  These state consortia will work with their institutions of higher education to ensure that they are creating rigorous assessments that  measure college readiness.

The new assessments are not scheduled to be released until 2014-2015, and the assessments are currently limited to English/language arts and mathematics. Secretary Duncan stated that he and the Obama administration are committed to quality education in all subjects, including science, history, and the arts, and he encouraged states to take the initiative to develop new common standards for those subjects.  For now, Secretary Duncan signaled in his closing remarks, public high schools around the country will need to prepare for the big changes coming.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.



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