State Board of Education establishes graduation scores on Smarter Balanced Assessments

Dear Stakeholders:

As you may know, at its August 5th meeting, the State Board set the minimum scores required to earn a diploma on state assessments, as required by law. We appreciate those who have provided input and feedback to the Board at meetings and community forums. The adopted scores and supporting details can be accessed here.

The Board followed through on its equal impact philosophy, adopting a mid-Level 2 score requirement for the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) assessment (scale score: 2548), and followed the same philosophy for the Math End-of-Course exams. The SBAC math score (2595) was set to be commensurate with the ELA requirement. These minimum scores are just a little more than half way up the Level 2 scale; about 60% of the way between Levels 2 and 3.SBAC SCores

The Board wanted me to help explain their decision to you all, and emphasize a few points we can all work on together for the betterment of students.

First, the Board wants to emphasize that Level 3 remains the goal for all students on the new (SBAC) assessments. A Level 3 score represents a career and college-ready score for our students. The Board wishes – indeed expects – all students to eventually be able to achieve this level of proficiency. Although the board has set a transition standard at a rate below Level 3, this was done to ease the transition for our system and demonstrate fairness to students. It was not done to compromise or confuse our ultimate goal.

We have every reason to believe that students will respond to the Level 3 challenge. Over 70 percent of 10th graders achieved a Level 3 this year – exceeding earlier predictions – and we know our students are capable of much more. The Board has already indicated that it will revisit this issue frequently and may move the minimum score requirement to a Level 3 in the near future. The Board believes that emphasizing a Level 3 score as the goal now will help ease that transition when the time comes.

Second, as exciting as the 10th grade results were, the results from juniors on the SBAC were perplexing. Fewer than half of juniors took the assessment, and those who did were greatly surpassed in achievement by their sophomore counterparts. The sophomores outperformed the juniors to such an extent that it is obvious that something is wrong. As a result, the Board was limited in its ability to use this data to set scores for the math SBAC.

As a system, we need to strategize about ways to communicate with students about the 11th grade assessment, and provide the proper encouragement and incentive for students to do their best, even prior to its requirement for a diploma. We should continue to emphasize the valuable information SBAC gives them about their level of preparedness for post-secondary education, what corresponding classes they can take as seniors to improve their readiness, and the potential it offers to avoid expensive remedial coursework at community and four-year colleges. A participation rate of less than 50 percent on a state assessment is a problem of practice we can all work on together.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while these assessments are important to our goals, but they are not the goals themselves. There is a difference between taking these assessments seriously, and letting a test define a student. No test defines a student. Kids are complex, hopeful, and individual wonders. Students who score at Level 1 can, with hard work, be successful in college and career. They should be reminded that many others have before them. A well-rounded student who is truly “career and college-ready” is more than simply proficient in Math and Language Arts. Let’s acknowledge the important role that SBAC assessments play in career and college-readiness, without letting them become the definition of career and college-readiness. Kids are so much more.

Thank you for partnering with us. We can do great things together. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write to us.


Ben Rarick

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Student Voices – Smarter Balanced

The State Board of Education’s student members, Madaleine Osmun and Baxter Hershman, took Smarter Balanced Assessments last year. Now, see what they thought!

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Washington State Achievement Index: Recognition and Improvement

Each year, the State Board of Education and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction analyze school performance through the Washington State Achievement Index. In addition to the federal Annual Yearly Progress measure, it’s the only statewide school accountability system recognized by both the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and State Board of Education.

The Achievement Index measures student proficiency in math, reading, writing and science, student growth, and college and career readiness (through high school graduation rates). It identifies high-performing schools for recognition and low-performing schools for support. The Index emphasizes improvement and recognition, not punishment.

What doesn’t it do? It doesn’t assign letter grades to schools.

The State Board of Education does not issue letter grades to schools, ever. Such an approach oversimplifies school data, and it doesn’t do justice to school communities working hard to serve students in a number of areas.

If you’d like a complete picture of how a school performed in 2013-2014, check out the Washington State Achievement Index.

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Anatomy of the Biology End-of-Course Requirement

The 2015 legislative session will be noteworthy in history for a number of reasons. Significant investments in K-12 education (and possibly a looming Supreme Court response). A transportation package. Tuition cuts at our state’s public universities.

Another reason it might be noteworthy is the shift it foreshadows in science assessment and high school graduation requirements in our state.

After nearly six months of debate, the legislature finally settled on a one word change in the statute in SB 6145. The effect is to delay the use of the Biology End of Course (EOC) as a high school graduation requirement for the classes of 2015 (retroactively) and the class of 2016. The Class of 2017 and beyond, however, still must meet the requirement.

The State Board of Education has been asking the legislature to reevaluate using biology as a science assessment since October. So we think the legislature did the right thing… but only sort of.  The Board would prefer the state end the use of Biology EOC as a graduation requirement permanently.

A temporary suspension of biology suggests that the main problem is that not enough kids pass the Biology EOC. The assumption seems to be that if we give them more time (in this case, 2 more years) they ultimately will. This thinking is evident in the intent section of the bill, as well as the budget note language included for the modest investments that were made for math and science professional development.

The pass rates for Biology EOC are indeed a problem, but they are not the main problem. The main problem is that the biology exam is the wrong test to require for high school graduation.

We should be intentional about what we assess, and why. And we shouldn’t require a test for graduation simply because it’s what we have at the time, and we don’t have a better one to replace it. Rather, our focus should be on the positive ways in which assessments can reinforce accountability for standards in those content and skill areas the state highly values for its graduates. The goal, always, is to make all students career and college-ready.

The problem is that the time and resources being deployed in our system toward the biology EOC assessment is considerably out-of-sync with the relative importance of that test for what it means to be college and career ready in science. The state’s recently adopted next generation science standards (NGSS) are our road map for what we want students to know and be able to do. Biology is important, but ultimately just one part of those comprehensive standards. Is retaking the biology EOC three times an important part of a student’s journey to college and career readiness? Probably not.

Meanwhile, as a system we await the development of a new assessment that is aligned to the NGSS standards. Such an assessment is under construction and might be available preliminarily in the 2017-18 school year. Thinking ahead, the legislature may not want phase in a new science assessment for students mid-way through their high school career. If they stick with that practice – and they probably should – then the assessment could conceivably replace the Biology EOC as a graduation requirement for students in 8th grade that first year, 2017-18. They would be the class of 2022. So, absent additional legislative action, we are still potentially looking at six or more graduating classes for which the Biology EOC requirement remains.

Ultimately, tests should be few. And they should be chosen carefully. Those tests that are required should directly reinforce the breadth of our state content standards. Our newly implemented Math and English language arts assessments are fine examples of that. The Biology EOC is not.

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Smarter Balanced Assessments and Graduation Requirements

A lot is happening with the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Washington right now. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction released preliminary results from 2015 testing last week, and the State Board of Education meets August 5 in Olympia to set a graduation score. At the July meeting in Seattle, the Board will hear a panel on implementation. In the meantime, administrators, educators, students, and families have questions. The one we hear most: “Why set the score after students take the test?” We’ll answer that question in this blog post.

First, some background. The state adopted new learning standards (Common Core State Standards) for math and English Language Arts in 2011. In 2013, the Legislature directed the Board to set a score students need to attain on the new assessments to earn a high school diploma with the new standards. Board members recognized the need to develop a score that won’t force students to carry the weight of new assessments. OSPI and the Board worked together to identify a process that’s fair to students.

The Board adopted Smarter Balanced levels three and four as meeting proficiency in January, but those scores wouldn’t work as a graduation standard for Washington students – students who hadn’t had the benefit of being taught to the standards throughout their middle and high school years, or the  benefit of earlier scoring to chart their paths. Many juniors took the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year. For those students, it’s not a graduation requirement, but it can serve as an alternative and be used for placement in college courses.

The Board wants a score that will result in an equivalent percentage of students meeting the graduation standard as past years and approved a process to do that – developed by OSPI – at the March meeting. OSPI proposed to collect results from students who took the HSPE and EOC assessments as sophomores in 2014 and the Smarter Balanced Assessments as juniors in 2015. The graduation scores will be based on comparing performance on both tests.

Another confusing part of testing this year: parental refusals, or “opt-outs.” What it means is that some students aren’t taking the state-required tests. OSPI is evaluating parental refusal numbers now. Board members hope to have a representative sample to establish a fair score for graduation as planned.

Because the Board is required under current law to set a score for meeting standard, the Board will meet on August 5 to decide a score that means meeting standard for graduation. The process above will set standards in a way that’s most fair to students and schools – a way that doesn’t penalize students for taking the new tests, but still provides a way to identify gaps in Washington’s education system.

If you have questions about the process of setting graduation scores for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, please post them in the comments below.

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