Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two more Races to the Top start now: the assessment competition

There's been lots of discussion about the federal Race to the Top, almost always about the $4 billion competition for big shifts in state policy around standards, data, teachers and leaders, and intervention in weak schools. 

Separately,* $350 million from RTTT will be awarded in two additional competitions, and that race  launched today.

The Comprehensive Assessment process will choose a maximum of two state consortia to develop assessments of whether students are on track for college readiness, and must include mathematics and English language arts in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school.   Maximum awards for each group will be $160 million to be spent over four years.

The High School Course Assessment process will award one state consortium up to $30 million to "measure student knowledge and skills against a common set of expectations that are rigorous and designed to ensure that students who pass the course assessment are on track to being college- and career-ready."

Without trying to blog the full details now, I'll mention three things that jump out.

First, each consortium must include at least fifteen states.  Clearly, this process is a serious push to create greater unity in education goals than the U.S. has had in the past.  Kentucky has been actively involved in all the discussions about how to share this work, so we're ready to compete on that issue.

Second, each application has a "competitive priority" for approaches with public higher education backing.  That is, the proposal can get extra credit points if the member states' institutions commit to help develop the assessment and to use the results to exempt students from remedial classes.  Equally clearly, this is a push both to have the assessments  align with college expectations and to have students perceive the test as important to their own college ambitions.  With our strong collaboration on SB 1, Kentucky's ready for that.

Third, the applications want the full testing up and running in 2014-15, with part of the high school course testing due in a year earlier.  Here in the Bluegrass, where we've got a statutory commitment to a new assessment system by 2012, we're past ready: the feds are willing to wait a lot longer than we are for the transition to a new testing approach.

The application documents are here, and I'll blog more when I've had time for a deeper read.

* Really.  It's separate money.  In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/ARRA/stimulus bill, the total RTTT entry is $4.35 billion, and very early on, Secretary Duncan set aside the $350 million part for new assessments, while the main $4 billion went for the things we've been discussing for the last seven months.

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