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Race to the Top promises new era of standardized testing

US awards $330 million to two coalitions of states to develop standardized testing as part of its Race to the Top competition; tests to employ computers to measure students' skills.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks about the federal Race to the Top school reform grant competition, July 27, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Drew Angerer/AP

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Put down your No. 2 pencils and get ready for the next generation of standardized tests, featuring fewer multiple choice questions and increased use of computers.

As part of its Race to the Top competition, the US Department of Education awarded $330 million today to two coalitions of states to help them develop new ways of measuring whether students are on track to be ready for college and 21st-century careers.

“These new tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in announcing the grants. “They’ll be better, smarter assessments -- the kind of tests our teachers want and our students need.”

The testing systems will align with the new Common Core Standards in math and English language arts that nearly 40 states have already agreed to adopt. When the new tests are rolled out in 2014-15, the states in each coalition will be able to compare results with, and learn from, one another.

The coalitions – representing 44 states and the District of Columbia -- say it will be an improvement over the current system of individual state standards and testing in several key ways:

• Beyond multiple choice: Students’ skills in digital media, classroom speaking, and ability to apply reading and math knowledge to real-world problems would be measured in a variety of ways. Students might be asked, for instance, to design a park on a plot of land, using geometry to fit in the playing fields and financial literacy to create a budget.

• Computer-based: Much of the testing will take place via computer, allowing teachers to get results more quickly. One coalition would use computer adaptive technology so that students at certain skill levels would skip to appropriate questions to more efficiently pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses.

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