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On Track & Moving Forward: Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Update

On April 25, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) hosted a briefing in Washington, DC, on the progress of the 26-state consortium.

Smarter Balanced is one of the two Race to the Top-funded consortia of states working to develop K-12 assessment systems aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The assessments – in mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy – will be administered online and will provide students with an early signal of their readiness for college-level credit-bearing courses. The Smarter Balanced assessment system will include required summative assessments, optional interim assessments to be administered locally through each school year, and a series of formative tools and processes to be used at the classroom level.  The summative assessments will utilize computer-adaptive testing with the goal of providing greater precision and efficiency in measuring students’ proficiency on the Common Core State Standards.

Joe Willhoft, Executive Director of Smarter Balanced, provided an overview of the assessment system, including an update on the pilot test occurring right now in over 5,000 schools and reaching about 1 million students. Willhoft also shared newly released cost estimates that peg the cost per student to be approximately $22.50 for just the summative assessment, which is actually less than what about two-thirds of Smarter Balanced states currently spend on assessments. He noted that about 70 percent of the cost will go towards the (human) scoring of the performance-based items included in the assessment used to measure problem solving and deeper analytical skills.

Willhoft also discussed the option states and districts will have to use paper-and-pencil tests for the first three years of administration as a strategy of easing the transition to the computer-based assessments, noting that the results from the paper test will be comparable with the online assessments.

Jacqueline King, Director of Higher Education Collaboration for Smarter Balanced, spoke on the role higher education has been playing throughout the design and development process. Specifically, she pointed to the college content-readiness policy released last month that will facilitate the use of the high school assessments by institutions of higher education. Students who score a three or above on the high school summative assessment will have a portable score that can be used by colleges and universities to exempt them from remedial education and place them into credit-bearing courses. Looking ahead, Smarter Balanced will continue to engage with higher education to build awareness and support for the assessment system.

King also mentioned that Smarter Balanced would be exploring the idea of what the assessments mean insofar as students’ academic “career readiness” in coming months.

Kate Blosveren, Associate Executive Director

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