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Smarter Balanced Assessments and Graduation Requirements

Release Date: 

July 6, 2015

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.

Media Contact: 

Alissa Muller, SBE Communications Manager, (360) 725-6501