The Common Core National Assessment: A Progress Report

By Katie McKnight, Ph.D.

The shift to the Common Core State Standards is bringing about unprecedented change to the classroom. However, the potential impact of the new national assessments is even bigger. And teachers have questions—many questions: What do the new assessments really change? How will they impact what we do in the classroom? How can teachers and students get the best results?

In this article, we’ll look at what we know so far about the new assessments—they are in development and evolving quickly. But first, let’s clear up some misconceptions about the Common Core State Standards.

The truth about the CCSS

The standards were not developed by the federal government. The initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In fact, the standards were developed not by government officials but in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts. Together they created a clear and consistent framework for preparing children for college and the job market.

The standards do not provide a complete scope and sequence course outline, or all the essential skills and knowledge a student could have. The architects of the Common Core believe teachers know best how to meet the standards. And it is the teachers who will determine how to adjust their instruction accordingly.

The standards do outline the most important skills and knowledge a student needs to master. In fact, the standards are very specific about 21st century skills—the skills that will enable students to tackle college and a career successfully.

Why national assessments?

During the No Child Left Behind era, each state had its own assessment and standards. As a result, there were many inconsistencies between states related to rigor and relevance. The national assessments were proposed to eliminate those inconsistencies. But what really is driving the adoption of national assessments is alarming achievement data: 60% of students are not reading proficiently and that number rises to 80% in children of poverty. Something had to change.

Two consortia have set to work to develop a common set of K–12 assessments in English and Math. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SB) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC). All states that are adopting the CCSS have chosen or will choose a consortium to partner with.

PARC and Smarter Balanced: Two paths toward the same goal

The PARC and SB assessments are similar. Both PARCC and SB will include multiple-choice, short answer, open response, and performance-based items. Both are computer-based assessments that will deliver a real-time snapshot of where a student is and give teachers the insight to adjust accordingly and quickly. No more waiting until the end of the school year when it’s too late. Both assessments will be scored by a combination of artificial intelligence and human scoring. To what extent teachers will be involved in scoring will be determined state by state.

Both assessments are still in development and being vetted. For the latest information, check the PARCC website at and the SB website at

For a more detailed assessment update, check out SDE’s webinar Assessment Update for Common Core State Standards by CCSS expert and author Katie McKnight, Ph.D.

Partner with SDE