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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18 Responses to Smarter Balanced Assessments and Graduation Requirements

  1. DeeDee Loberg says:

    We cannot default to the lowest common denominator for student success. Either we are serious about college and career readiness or we are not! Let’s make sure this time around that we really are preparing our students for successful lives and not blowing smoke. My kids went through the WASL years, with no perceivable benefit.
    Phase in the scores. Don’t lower the thresholds. Make it actually mean something.
    If the test is designed to assess college readiness, and we want the diploma to indicate college readiness, then scoring a 3 or 4 is what we need to require!

  2. Dr. Nancy Chamberlain says:

    If the test is designed to assess college readiness, and we want the HS diploma to indicate college readiness, then scoring a 3 or 4 is what we need to require!
    I understand that means a huge number of kids are not deemed college ready. We pretty much knew that (see math remediation rates in college.) Maybe we use a “phase in” – the SBE feels it isn’t fair to hold kids accountable to standards that have just been put in place. Fine. So set a cut score that rises each year until it is “you must score a 3 or 4 to graduate.)
    It would be ridiculous to set the cut score so that the grad rate remains the same. Looking at grade 11 math scores, the cut score would have to be a low 2 or even a 1!

  3. says:

    Our state has made a strong commitment to graduate students as college and career ready and has adopted common core and the Smarter Balanced Assessments to ensure that we do so. It is imperative that our State Board of Education ensures that the standards we set for graduation honor the commitment that graduates are college and career ready, and a score of 1 or a 2 is simply evidence that they are not. By saying you want to set the standard at a level that keeps the graduation rate similar to prior years seems to simply retain the status quo rather than to improve student readiness for careers in our state.

    It has been my observation that the system, unfortunately, tends to defer to the least common denominator. If the meaningful goals for graduation are set at 1 or 2, then that is what the system will produce. I don’t think any of us want that.

    I strongly encourage the State Board of Education to take seriously the commitment to prepare all students for college and career and to ensure that we have the systems in place to lift up all students to these levels. I strongly encourage the State Board to set the cut scores at 3 and to ensure that we have interventions to get all students to that level. To do anything else would result, in my opinion, in allowing too many students to graduate high school ill prepared for their futures.

    Sincerely and with students in mind,
    Carolyn Simpson
    Snoqualmie Valley School Board, Director
    writing as an individual

  4. Lienda Cortes says:

    Washington State students deserve an equal and vigorous education. Please provide more focus and funding to learning comprehension in the school system. I believe this and parent commitment to doing homework every night and going to school every day will make it more then possible to obtain a graduation cut score at a 3 or 4.

    Lienda Cortes
    Richland, WA

  5. Anna Dorton says:

    Washington State students deserve an equal and better education, we as parents are willing to work with our children every night by them doing homework and attending school every day. Now please don’t lower the thresholds, if the test is designed to assess college readiness, and we want the diploma to indicate college readiness then the standard graduation needs to be at a 3 or 4.

  6. Mindie Wirth says:

    As an employee in Washington’s high tech sector I see firsthand just how much we are importing talent – in fact, we are the #2 top importer of talent in the country. I am proud to be a longtime Washingtonian and want to see more of that talent sourced locally! This means that we aren’t kidding ourselves about what it really means to graduate from high school truly college ready and encourage kids to pursue degrees in higher education that right now cannot meet the demand.

    Lowering the SBA standard below a “3” means that high school diploma’s earned in Washington state would not be worth the paper they are printed on. Our children, community and longevity as a high tech hub deserve better than that. I encourage the State Board of Education to set the cut score to a “3”, provide a phase in period and support REAL programs that help all Washington students meet the basic requirements.

  7. Veronica M. Beliz says:

    I feel so very strongly that Washington students will not only benefit but also challenge them to better themselves as well as their community. We shouldn’t lower standards for them to graduate and then go off to college only to find out that they need to pay out of their grants for a class or for credits that they should’ve got through our tax dollars in high school. We can’t dummy down our students, we need to encourage them to be challenged and strive towards a brighter future. To believe in them and push them for success!!!!! They need to have the education they deserve.
    My thoughts on keeping up with a 3 or even upgrading to a 4 point GPA is clear, this should remain a requirement.

  8. Tony V says:

    We want students to be college ready, then scoring a 3 or 4 is what we need to aim for, for all students to be able to meet. We need better disaggregated data that actually reflects the learning outcomes of our students to also better assist them. A “1” or “2” would reflect biased assumptions about certain groups of students not being able to achieve at a high level, or deserving of a quality public education.

  9. Linda C. says:

    If we are looking to raise ‘graduation’ rates, then by all means, lower the standard score below a 3 and then why bother wasting paper on those diplomas. If we want to make sure our students are college ready, then scoring a 3 or 4 is absolutely what we need to do.

  10. Meena Menter says:

    I want to make sure my kids are ready for college and the global marketplace. The generation setting these cut scores don’t have to compete the same way our kids do. In lowering the cut mark, we will widen the opportunity gap. The kids who have active parents, because they have the socio-economic means and prior mentoring to do so, will continue to score high. That is because their parents are concerned about the “Content” of their knowledge not just the number on their grades. The ones whose parents and situations are less secure will continue to falter and get false hopes that they have “made the cut”. Please do not lower the expectations of our students – be part of the good side of public education that cares about actual kids, not the graduation numbers.

  11. Ekkarath Sisavatdy says:

    The state must commit to a high standard of achievement. The standard must be set no less than 3. As a Lao American and a member of SEAeD Coalition (Southeast Asian American Access in Education) we believe it is important to have a set baseline of achievement goals that transitions all students to future success. Having high standards also shows a real commitment by the state providing a message of responsible education that invests, prepares and supports students, families and all communities equally.

  12. Gayle says:

    This test took eight weeks of teaching‎ time to complete. This is unacceptable.  Many of my juniors decided that since they didn’t have to pass the test, they were not even going to try on it. Most figured out that the space bar registered as a character and so spaced their way through the entire test. They are tired of taking all of these tests and practice tests. They have taken them for nine years. We also had issues with the computers. Because of all the testing, students do not receive any computer lessons at the elementary level. They are therefore not prepared for this new test. Many of my students complained that there were many mistakes on the tests. They also complained that the lesson did not seem to correlate with the test questions.

  13. Jeffrey Dunn says:

    The WA State Board of Education is interested in equating current WA graduation standards with SBAC standards (which would set next year’s graduation standard somewhere in the “2” range). They have no interest in lowering standards. The interest is to maintain standards. To set next year’s graduation standards at the SBAC “3” standard would be to raise standards.

    I find it disturbing that some see WA students as a monolithic group marching toward four-year college matriculation. Nationally only 35% of job openings require a college degree. Raising standards would be a step to widen the gap between WA privileged and under classes.
    Jeffrey Dunn
    2014 ESD 101 Teacher of the Year

  14. Charles Hoff says:

    Isn’t it time that we become serious about education? Setting cut scores based on how many this will allow to pass just further depreciates a high school diploma. We know by community college remediation rates that the current high school diploma is not acceptable. Why continue this myth?

  15. Kevin Chase says:

    Setting a cut score of three for graduation at this stage of implementation of the SBA and the Washington State Learning Standards is very premature. We are just learning to teach the new standards. We do not have a consistent application of quality instruction and assessment skills necessary to provide an experience that will provide a guaranteed opportunity for each and every student to meet mastery of the standards. It is way to early to hold students accountable for a high stakes outcome in a system not ready to deliver the education it takes to get there. I have full confidence that in the future our systems can provide the instruction needed to say we are confident that a student has had that chance, but right now I have little confidence that every students has that chance. Look at the present scores. They reflect much work to do on our behalf. Students should not be held accountable for adults changing the standards and assessments, until we can make the necessary system changes to guarantee they are getting the opportunity to gain the skills. We can do it, but it will take time.

  16. Justin Bradford says:

    I believe we should stay with cut scores of 3 and 4. We either have a standard or we do not. I believe most students will rise to higher standards when given the opportunity to do so. Look at WASL passing rates prior to them being linked to graduation. I wouldn’t take an assessment seriously either if had no meaning. If we are worried that SBAC (or EOC’s) aren’t valid, the solution is to rework the test, not lower the standard.

  17. Marcus Morgan says:

    It is premature to set the cut scores of 3 and 4. Until we have valid curriculum that is well matched to the standards, some teachers and students will struggle meeting those cut scores. Is it acceptable to use a unproven standard with a pilot test as the only hurdle for graduation? Is it acceptable to fail 20% of our students based on that standard?
    Schools need time to make the adjustments to the new standards, to adopt appropriate curriculum and work through several years of the new curriculum before making graduation hinge on one test score!
    Let’s be fair to students! Schools will need more time to implement and purchase valid and reliable curriculum.

  18. Steve Holland says:

    It is difficult to comprehend that we would even consider requiring a minimum of a “3” for graduation at this time. Leaving aside the debate of whether or not passing a given test or tests should be a graduation requirement (most states do not have such a requirement), how could it possibly make sense to hold students accountable to reach such a high level of performance at this early stage of introducing the new tests? Can most students be “college ready” as determined by SBAC? Yes, given enough time and resources. (We’ve had neither.) Can all students be college ready? No. It appears that many people are willing to ignore these facts and deny a gateway diploma to a large number of students simply because they’ve not met some artificial and arbitrary standard for success.

    Throughout my career I have known any number of students who had no desire to go to college, didn’t prepare for college and still had meaningful careers/lives because they either 1) later became ready or 2) found another way to reach their goals. Based on many of the comments here, they don’t matter.

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