Washington Students Begin Field Tests For New, Common Core-Aligned Statewide Exams

Mar 27, 2014

Students in more than 600 Washington state schools are beginning to take a new, potentially-tougher standardized test this week that will soon completely replace the state's current standardized tests.

Between now and June, about one-fifth of Washington state students will join peers in 22 states in a trial run for new Smarter Balanced exams, which were written to match a set of nationally-crafted academic standards called the Common Core.

Because it's a "field test," students or schools won't receive scores from this year's exams. But proponents say the Common Core sets more rigorous expectations for students, which could make Smarter Balanced exams more difficult to pass when they replace Washington's current statewide tests.

"It won't mean that any one student is doing worse [if he doesn't pass], it will just mean that we changed the way that we are measuring them," said Robin Munson, who heads standardized testing in Washington's state superintendent's office.

Munson points out Washington state students have scored better than average on other national tests used to compare academic performance across states in the past.

"I bring up those tests because those are tests that have been more rigorous. Washington students have performed pretty well on those," Munson said. " That's not to say that I expect us to have the same percentage of students meeting standard, but until we go through the first operational test, we won't know what the new percent of students meaning standards is."

The new standardized tests are part of what has made the Common Core standards controversial. Since the tests are designed to facilitate easier comparisons in academic performance across states, some believe the Common Core amounts to an overreach by the federal government. Others worry the Common Core cements an unhealthy obsession with testing into the nation's classrooms.

More than 200,000 of Washington state's one million students will take Smarter Balanced tests this year. No Tacoma schools and only two Seattle schools are administering the new exams.

Most of the students taking part are of elementary or middle school age. Because they're taking part in the field test, they won't be required to take the state's current exam to avoid taking two standardized tests.