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ESEA Reauthorization Hearing: Standards and Assessments

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At yesterday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, “ESEA Reauthorization: Standards and Assessments,” much of the focus was on common core standards, college and career readiness, computer adaptive testing and multiple measures.

In his opening statement, Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) stressed the need for high standards in part because the cost of remediation for students entering postsecondary is in the billions, and more than 50 percent of high school students entering the workforce do not have the skills they need to do their jobs. Ranking member Michael Enzi (WY) agreed that students need to be held to high standards that prepare them for college and careers. He also stated that it is important for states to use various assessment models that measure higher order skills and 21st century skills that employers value.

Regarding college and career readiness, Dr. Cynthia Schmeiser of ACT told the committee that they believe that college readiness and career readiness are one in the same – the math and reading skills that students need to enter their first year of postsecondary are identical to the math and reading skills high school graduates need to enter the workforce. This definition differs from NASDCTEc’s.  We believe that while there is overlap between the knowledge and skills individuals need to successfully transition into postsecondary education and into the workforce, additional competency will be needed depending on the path a student chooses.

During the question and answer portion of the hearing, much of the dialogue was related to CTE:

  • Sen. Enzi asked how the WorkKeys assessment system relates to the career ready standards. Dr. Schmeiser, whose group worked with CCSSO and NGA on the Common Core Standards, said that data from WorkKeys assessments were used as an evidentiary base to determine what skills students need in the workplace.
  • Sen. Enzi was concerned that students do not value tests, so scores may be lower, and he wanted to know how this can be changed. Dr. Steven Paine, Superintendent of Schools in West Virginia, responded that students take college entrance exams such as ACT more seriously, so would be important to “merge purposes” of the state tests and make them count for something. He also shared with the committee that in his state CTE programs are moving towards a 50 percent performance based component. Students will be judged by real people on their skills competencies. Doing so has better engaged students than pencil and paper tests.
  • Sen. Patty Murray (WA) asked for the panelists’ take on the difference between college readiness and career readiness, and how they are the same. Dr. Schmeiser stated that under the Common Core Standards college readiness and career readiness are the same, but the standards can be contextualized for career formats.
  • Sen. Lamar Alexander  (TN) wanted to know whether the focus of the common standards as on “college and career” or “college or career.” Dr. Schmeiser stated that not every student will go to college, but whether a student goes to college or workforce they will be educated to the same standards.
  • Sen. Kay Hagan (NC) asked panelists how the federal government can encourage states to promote 21st century skills. Dr. Paine said that one of the consortia, Smarter Balanced, formed to apply for Race to the Top assessments grants is focused to the adaptive testing process along with other types of measures.

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