Callie Riley is associate director for state engagement and outreach at PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). The Hewlett Foundation is supporting PARCC, along with the Council of Chief State School Officers and CoreSpring, in the creation of the Item Writers Algebra Readiness competition. 

In my former life as a classroom teacher and, more recently, working with teachers and local leaders at PARCC—a consortium of states working together on assessments to measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and their careers—I’ve seen first-hand that great teaching tools can lead to more than just a shift in the classroom. They can lead to truly engaging conversations among peers, and more importantly, a collective shift in thinking. Educators have collaborated to develop a number of great tools over the past few years, such as a series of Teaching Channel videos that focus on connecting good instruction and good assessment. But there’s still been an unanswered call for a user-friendly tool that will allow teachers to connect with one another, talk about best practices, and develop tasks aligned to the Common Core State Standards that can be used to support student learning.

That connection between instruction and assessment is embodied in item writing and task development—creating the building blocks of student assessment—and it’s no mean feat. Normally a job for those employed with assessment companies because of the immense amount of time needed to ensure high quality, teachers have begun to get more involved, with the goal of aligning what kids see on their state tests with the kind of tasks they use in their classrooms. Item writing includes the process of taking a standard or many standards—what a student is supposed to be learning in her classroom—and translating those standards into tasks that will allow the student to demonstrate what she knows.


Enter the Item Writers Algebra Readiness competition. This competition is the first in a series that will focus on innovative, open-source item development for everyday use in classrooms. The competition was developed with the guidance of educators who are currently in the classroom, and will provide an interactive platform for participants to communicate with one another during the development process.

Educators around the country will develop assessment items and can not only provide feedback, advice, and expertise to one another, but also get feedback from a wide range of experts in the field. The goal of the project is to create great collections of items that can be used by educators in the field to aid with formative assessment, and also identify great educators who know the standards well and are able to translate them into complex and thoughtful tasks for students. Ultimately, the competition will also create a community of learners who are engaged in the process of changing the lives of students. And the best task sets will be available to all educators as open education resources available on the PARCC Partnership Resource Center—an online library of interactive tools and resources for educators hosted by the PARCC consortium—set to debut later this year.

Registration is open through this Sunday, May 17. If you are a math-savvy teacher, please join us and become a part of this growing community of practitioners. And engage in a little friendly competition while you’re at it!