The spring testing window for students in Washington state’s public schools is underway, which means year two of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA). Between now and June, students in grades 3-8, 10, and 11 will take these exams, which include testing in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. Assessment results will give students – as well as their families and their schools – insight into where they stand on the path to career- and college-readiness.
Last year saw strong participation on the SBA from students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10, but more than half of Washington’s 11th graders refused to take the test. Looking to improve upon that this year, the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) has issued the 95/10 Percent Challenge, endorsing two goals: All schools meet the 95 percent test participation requirement established under federal law. And, Washington reduces the number of students requiring postsecondary remedial coursework by 10 percent.
In setting the goals, the SBE clearly lays out the value of the Smarter Balanced assessments, particularly for high school students:
“Although full participation is important to ensure federal compliance, the overriding consideration is the ability to monitor and support the progress of all students, particularly those not on track for a career and college-ready diploma.
“In that spirit, the Smarter Balanced assessment serves multiple purposes. In addition to setting a career- and college-ready standard for high school achievement, and informing senior year course-taking choices, this assessment can also save students time and money for college placement. For the first time ever, students who pass can skip costly and time-consuming remedial coursework at the post-secondary level.”
The SBE goes on to outline the value of the assessments in identifying achievement gaps:
“The Smarter Balanced assessment helps us understand the size of the gaps we face and help schools identify individual students who are in need of extra help. But widespread assessment refusals obscure those gaps, and eliminate a tool for parents and teachers to identify students in need of extra help. All students and their parents have a right to know whether they are ready for college-level work.”
SBE chair Isabel Muñoz-Colón sums up the benefits of the assessments nicely, saying in a statement:
“Smarter Balanced assessments help Washington students in two ways. For students who are struggling, the assessment can be used by educators and other stakeholders to identify who needs help and target resources to those students and their families. Students achieving a level 3 or 4 on the assessment can be placed directly into credit-bearing courses at Washington colleges and universities. We now have a system where the pathway to college and career, though not perfect, is much clearer.”
The Roundtable has long supported college- and career-ready learning standards and aligned assessments in K-12 education, and we were encouraged by last year’s Smarter Balanced results. Driving increased student participation in the assessments, particularly among our high school students, is important to improving education outcomes for all Washington students.