Last September, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced: "Today is a great day! I have looked forward to this day for a long time--and so have America's teachers, parents, students, and school leaders."
Duncan was excited about a new way of testing students, one that goes "beyond the bubble test," the standardized assessments students take every year that have long been criticized as not only useless in measuring any kind of real learning, but actually detrimental to the entire education system.
Ask most teachers, and you'll hear a litany of reasons why they detest these assessments. They contend the current tests have no bearing on student learning. They waste time that could be better spent in class (the former president of United Teachers Los Angeles, "dismisses the weeks before spring testing as 'Bubbling-In 101,'" according to a Los Angeles Times article.) They complain about having to teach to the tests, leaving them little time to try new ways of engaging students. And in some states, teachers are evaluated based on those very scores.
With stakes so high, teachers, parents, and school administrators are watching the developments of the new tests closely. The actual details of what these new assessments will look like is being revealed along the way-- and it's extremely complicated. In brief, two separate groups -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium -- are using the federal government's Race to the Top Funds to come up with the new testing systems, which will be used by different states. (You can read much more about the details in this recent story in Education Week.)
Both groups will create tests using technology in both administering and scoring and will measure "performance-based tasks, designed to designed to mirror complex, real-world situations," according to the New York Times.