The PARCC Released Item Analysis shows what auditors look for when comparing district assessments to the high-stakes tests in use. Ideally, district formative assessments should prepare students for what they will encounter on the PARCC, Smarter Balanced, STARR, or other state tests. In practice, however, many assessments don’t align with those tests in the level of cognitive demand, the mode of student response, or the content covered. This is true of district- and teacher-developed assessments and assessments purchased from an external source.
A number of elements must be considered when looking at assessment alignment. Content is the easiest element to align and many assessments are aligned with state tests in this dimension. Harder to align are the other dimensions of Context and Cognitive Type. Cognitive Type is simply the thinking skills required to complete the test. Are students merely remembering content (low cognitive demand) or are they analyzing for something (higher cognitive demand)? Context is the way in which the student demonstrates mastery – the “how” of the test. This covers everything from the form of the questions (multiple choice, short answer, essay) to the mode of response (computerized test, bubble sheet, word-processed essay) to the degree of complexity (multiple-step problems, dependent item scoring, single-operation problem) to the literary selections (long pieces, short pieces, related pieces, pieces from a different era, mixed media selections). If a state test in grade 6 ELA uses 19th century poems which students are expected to compare and contrast in a short, word-processed essay and the district assessments only use pencils and bubble sheets and modern poems with multiple choice questions asking what the poem is about, students will not be prepared adequately for the state test.
The Curriculum Management Audit provides alignment analyses to districts either as a part of a Traditional Audit or as part of a Program Audit. Alignment between the district assessments and the high-stakes tests in use helps level the playing field and improve achievement for all students. A sample of this type of analysis can be found on our Free Resources page.