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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Tools and Tactics to Measure Students’ Mastery of the Common Core Standards

By Victor Rivero - Posted May 1, 2015
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The Common Core State Standards (CCS) first appeared (or reared their ugly head, depending on your take) in 2009 as an initiative of the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. A half-dozen states have yet to adopt the standards, which apply to English-language arts and mathematics (Next Generation Science Standards are indirectly related and cover science). The idea, at least, is a good one: Ensure high school students graduate either college- or career-ready. How that idea is carried out is yet another issue entirely.

“The CCSS are an utter sham,” says a veteran educator who otherwise declined to comment for this article. These words seem to capture sentiments of more than a few educators. A movement “to end corporate education reform” is cropping up (United Opt Out)— lofting harsh monikers toward the testing companies involved in assessing the standards, even holding a national conference. Meanwhile, the Badass Teachers Association is calling for changes to the Department of Education’s recent proposal to attach student test scores to new teacher effectiveness and credentialing.

Tom Loveless, the respected Brookings Institution education analyst, observed several years ago that the CCSS have done little to equalize academic achievement within states; more recently Loveless, wrote, “Assessment will become an important implementation variable in 2015 and subsequent years” (“Measuring Effects of Common Core,” 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?, March 24, 2015).

Like them or not, after years of development and adoption, 2014–15 marks implementation year for CCSS; two different assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, move them forward. PARCC is computer-based through-course assessments with year-end tests; Smarter Balanced uses adaptive online exams.

Despite much momentum, districtwide defections are proving a challenge in places such as Chicago, Mississippi, and elsewhere, but the gripe isn’t entirely about the tests themselves. Reliable technology isn’t sufficiently in place, and that’s creating havoc when entire grades of children sit before connected screens to tap in what they know.

Like an overflowing steam pot with a jiggling lid, all of this together—CCSS, NGA, CCSSO, Department of Ed, PTAs, BATs, teachers, technology, and assessment—is a lot of noise and steam boiling over, and we don’t even know if the stew is healthy. Nonetheless, students still sit at the table and hunger for deeper learning.

This article is for those students as well as the educators who need help in ensuring they indeed graduate high school college- or career-ready.

There are innovative solution providers out there, many with die-hard educators among their ranks, that have toiled tirelessly toward authentically improving learning and assessment for students and teachers, even if their solutions are directed at Common Core. If you can’t excuse the standards, look for the usefulness of the solution on your own terms. Not all of them directly address the standards, but all of them address authentic teaching and learning.

Acuity Online Assessments—These online assessments include items written to college and career readiness standards and are designed to guide instruction, cultivate achievement, and measure growth.

Benchmark Now! —This is a free online student assessment app featuring ready-to-use exams (grades 3–12) tied to Common Core (ELA and math); it includes automated scoring and standards-aligned reporting to measure and track student proficiency.

CASE Assessments —For teachers who want and need immediate feedback on student skills to ensure they’re reading for testing, teachers can give benchmark assessments and access student scores, identify individual student and classroom needs, and reinforce or reteach skills to prepare students for assessments.

Classflow —With this tool, you can measure student learning, receiving real-time insight into student progress, and deliver multimedia lessons across a connected learning environment, as well as create, store, and deliver interactive multimedia lessons in the cloud.

Common Core Quest —From OpenEd, one of the world’s largest catalogs of educational videos, games, and assessments, comes a free app to test and track mastery of CCSS; it tracks learning gaps and personalizes learning through quizzes, practice problems, and exercises using a ribbon and badging system.

Edulastic —As the name implies, there is some flexibility in this tool when you create engaging Common Core aligned formative assessments with interactive, technology-enhanced items and thousands of high-quality questions.

EssayTagger —To English teacher Keith Mukai, it became pretty clear that no one outside of education understood just how brutal and time-consuming it is to be a teacher. Here’s an impressive, intuitive, and gorgeous little tool to help you grade essays a lot faster. It’s not an auto-grader; you still grade papers yourself, but use it and you’ll see how it’s faster. Nothing to download, just go online.

LearnBop —With this solution, every problem—or as the company calls them, every “bop”—is aligned to Common Core. As students complete each bop, data is collected at every stop, giving teachers granular data that pinpoints concepts students are struggling with. Teachers can then create a playlist to personalize instruction, selecting from hundreds of tutorials and assessments.

MasteryConnect —Identify levels of understanding, target students for intervention, and improve learning and instruction with this solution; also assess and track mastery of state and Common Core standards. Know in real time what your students know.

metacog —This company deals in a breakthrough technology, taking old-school artist or architect portfolios and updating them into what it terms next-generation competency portfolios. In the past, such work was typically summarized by a report, and it was difficult to see the work behind badges or microcredentials and open-ended assessments; with metacog, that’s all changing.

Edmodo Snapshot —Just pick a subject area and standards, then Snapshot takes care of the rest, instantly creating formative assessments that you can assign to students as a warm-up, exit ticket, or however you choose. (Quizzes are aligned to grades 3–12 Math and ELA for Common Core, TEKS and SOL.)

WriterKEY —Here’s a rich set of tools and features based on the experience of master writing teachers. Teachers have the tools needed to build formative writing assignments, provide supported feedback, encourage revision, and use data to inform instruction, while students write, revise, and reflect from the assignment to the portfolio.


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For an insightful must-read by Michael B. Horn on a couple of different mindsets about learning, Common Core, competency-based learning—and the lessons that could be applied to our current situation—spend some time here:




“Fluency with critical thinking, readiness for life-long learning – that’s what will matter. That’s what my wife and I want for our children.” —Arne Duncan

“Common Core I would have thought of as more of a technocratic issue. The basic idea of, 'should we share an electrical plug across the country?' Well, you can get partisan about that I suppose.” —Bill Gates

“I’m all for all students having an equal opportunity to be exposed to and master the same foundational concepts, as opposed to the way today’s system works (and by the way, the adoption of digital learning would go a long way in helping solve this), but at the same time, this mindset of age-based grades is dangerous and a terrible relic of today’s factory-model system that is anything but equitable. …” —Michael Horn

“I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.” —Diane Ravitch

“Raising expectations and having accurate assessments of where kids are is essential for success, and I'm not going to back down on that.” —Jeb Bush

“Policy elites see school reform as a form of theater. Blaming schools for serious national problems, saying the right emotionally-loaded words, and giving the appearance of doing mighty things to solve the ‘school’ problem matter far more than hard evidence or past experiences with similar reforms.” —Larry Cuban



As you move through your school day, whether you’re in a classroom, an office, or a library, consider these questions:

1. Is ensuring that high school students graduate either college- or career-ready a good basic goal? What are some basic academic goals you feel strongly about?

2. What tools and tactics do you use to measure students’ mastery of Common Core State Standards—or any educational standard, for that matter?

3. What technology tools help teaching, learning, and assessment? What tools help make your job as an educator more efficient, more effective—or more pleasurable?

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