KANSAS CITY, Mo. —An effort to replace the current patchwork system of academic tests with new national exams is getting a big boost.
The U.S. Education Department has awarded about $330 million to two consortiums representing 44 states, including Missouri and Kansas, and the District of Columbia to develop exams based on voluntary national academic standards in language arts and mathematics.
The Race to the Top grants announced Thursday are part of a push to raise student achievement nationwide.
Currently, every state gives a different test to its students, with some making passage a graduation requirement.
Judy Wurtzel, deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Education Department's Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, said Friday that states have been leading the push for more uniformity.
"Right now, every state has its own standards and definition of what proficient is," Wurtzel said in a phone interview. "Some states are not giving very accurate information to parents, the public or students about how well their systems are doing. The states are really looking for more comparability."
One consortium, a Florida-led group of 26 states, will receive $170 million from the Education Department. Another $160 million grant will go to a Washington state-led group of 31 states.
Some states have joined both groups.
The U.S. Education Department said the Florida-led group plans to replace a high-stakes, end-of-year test with a series of assessments throughout the year that will be averaged into one score for accountability purposes.
"Our world has changed significantly over the last several decades, becoming more complex, more high-tech and more focused on a global marketplace," Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith said in a news release. "If we are to adequately prepare our children for this reality then we need to be measuring their academic progress on a global scale and comparing those results with other states and nations."
The Washington coalition's proposal calls for offering the tests online and asking students questions based on their previous answers.
"The immediate assessment results will provide teachers the information they need to adapt their instruction to the needs of each student," said Judy Park of Utah, co-chair of that group, in a news release.
The U.S. Education Department said the assessments will be ready for use by the 2014-15 school year.