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2 Aug 2013

Karen Wixson on Common Core Assessments

Summary by Elfrieda H. Hiebert

Karen Wixson’s session in TextProject’s Virtual Institute on Assessments and the Common Core should be on the top of the list in any teacher education or professional development course for providing pre- and in-service teachers with an overview of the new generation of assessments. Dr. Wixson provides a succinct but comprehensive overview of the key aims, tasks, and implications of the assessments being developed by the two consortium—Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

First, Dr. Wixson describes the key shifts in assessment and instruction emanating from the CCSS: complexity of text and academic language, evidence from text, and knowledge-building through content-rich text. These three shifts, Dr. Wixson observes, call for texts worth reading, tasks worthy of engagement, and integrated ELA.

Next, the presentation focuses on the overall design of the two assessment systems, including item types. The assessments of both consortia have three types of items, although they are given different labels in each assessment: multiple-choice items (some of which are technology-enhanced), items requiring open-ended responses, and performance assessments. Dr. Wixson includes sample items from released items from each consortium in the presentation. With respect to the length of texts and their difficulty, SBAC calls for texts at grade-level for the multiple-choice and open-ended responses, while texts for the performance assessments can be one grade below level. PARCC calls for texts that range from “very complex, moderately complex, or readily accessible.” The implications for instruction of the item types and length and difficulty of texts, Dr. Wixson notes, mean that students will need strategies for dealing with texts if they cannot read them independently and that students will also need to have sufficient stamina to participate independently in the assessment sessions.

In the third and final section of the presentation, Dr. Wixson goes into considerable detail as to the structure and content of performance tasks, which figure prominently in both the SBAC and PARCC assessment blueprints. In each consortium, performance tasks involve writing after getting information from multiple sources. The SBAC assessment stipulates that this information might come from texts, video or audio clips, or visuals and that the minimum number of sources of information is two at Grade 3 and five at high-school grades. In the SBAC performance assessment, a classroom activity provides an orientation to the topic and then students devote time to research (gaining information from the various sources). The information gained from these sources is then used in a writing activity. For example, after reading an article and watching a video about how animals defend themselves from danger, fourth graders are asked to write an article about an animal described in the sources for the purpose of inclusion in a museum display on animal defenses.

PARCC performance assessments are not limited to research but also include literary analysis. For example, after reading Ovid’s “Daedalus and Icarus” and Sexton’s “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph, ” tenth graders are asked to write an essay that provides an analysis of how Sexton transforms Daedalus and Icarus in her poem.

There are some differences in the tasks and item types of the two consortia. But, as Dr. Wixson concludes, both require that students have rich classroom literacy experiences that include reading different types of materials, integrating ideas and information from multiple sources of information, and writing for different purposes.

Download Dr. Wixson's presentation slides here.