What Real Assessment Flexibility Looks Like

Anyone following statewide summative assessment news has observed the trend of states leaving the consortia and returning to developing custom tests on their own. State policy makers want to ensure that state educators are involved in designing tests that align to their revised standards and reflect what is being taught in local classrooms.

That’s important, because relevance to the classroom and alignment among curriculum, instruction, and assessment is critical to ensuring students are learning and mastering what matters as they progress toward being ready for college and career.

Of course, custom development is expensive, and states spend ridiculously large sums of taxpayer money each year developing custom tests that are largely identical to their neighboring states’ tests.

As a parent and taxpayer, I have to wonder whether our approach to education and our expectations for student learning here in Texas are so different from those of our surrounding states. Is it so unthinkable that states — especially small and medium-sized states that can’t afford the high cost of custom development — could share some of the underlying test content as they design and develop their state-specific tests? It makes sense to me.

That’s why I started New Meridian two years ago — to provide a new way for states to share high-quality assessment content while maintaining their independence and the flexibility to design their own tests. As states either jointly or independently develop test content and share it through a secure, shared item pool, they realize the benefits of economies of scale, significantly reducing the cost and time required to develop a high-quality test.

As I’ve traveled the country in recent months introducing New Meridian to state education officials, I’ve found that public policymakers and assessment directors increasingly are interested in exploring what is possible through our innovative model of flexible assessment services.

First, we don’t offer a single test; rather we offer an expansive item bank, a repository of more than 10,000 high-quality performance tasks and test questions, all of which states themselves have produced, reviewed, and approved. This shift allows states to build their own tests, while greatly reducing the two greatest barriers to custom test design: cost and time.

While design options under this new model are virtually limitless (including licensing the PARCC test blueprint), most states will follow one of three general approaches in designing a custom test:

Custom Build

— States quickly develop custom assessments specifically tailored to state needs.

— Reduce development time and expense by using up to 100% of test items licensed from our shared bank to create their own tests.

— For the first time, states can produce an operationally ready, state-specific test in a matter of weeks.

Supplement

— States select items from the shared bank to fill gaps in an existing state-specific test blueprint.

— The model allows states to access items essentially a la carte, with the assurance that each item is high-quality and field-tested.

Validate

— States anchor their assessments to our nationally validated College and Career Readiness Scale to monitor students’ progress toward well-established benchmarks like the ACT, SAT, and success in first-year college courses.

— Anchor sets allow significant custom design to align to state-specific learning objectives while maintaining scale and comparability to other participating states.

Flexibility begins with test design, but it extends to test administration. A key design component of our model is that content development and test design are decoupled from and managed independently of the administration vendor. This means that states have the flexibility – both technically and contractually – to swap out test vendors for administration, scoring, and reporting without disrupting their assessment programs. This is critical to maintaining longitudinal continuity for accountability systems and providing some welcome relief to educators in the field who have grown frustrated and weary with serial changes to the state’s assessment program with every change in administration.

This innovative new approach is truly unprecedented, and I am proud that we can support states’ transition back toward custom state assessments that better align to local needs while enabling them to maintain highest quality and lower costs.