Common Core

Smarter Balanced States Approve Achievement Levels for 2015 Assessments

Joe WillhoftMembers of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have voted to approve initial achievement levels for the math and ELA assessments that will be administered in 17 states (and one territory) in the spring of 2015.
According to Smarter Balanced Executive Director Joe Willhoft (pictured), “These initial achievement levels were developed with input from thousands of educators and community members, reflecting a diverse cross-section of views on education. Moving forward, the achievement levels, along with scale scores that also will be reported, will help teachers and parents understand student performance and needs for support.”
Smarter Balanced is offering assessments for both ELA and math in grades 3 through 8 and high school, so the recommendations include achievement level scores for both subject areas at each of those grade levels. The achievement levels are designed to serve as a starting point for discussion about the performance of individuals and groups of students in math and ELA. To provide guidelines for how the scores and achievement levels can be used and interpreted, the Smarter Balanced states also approved a position paper designed to inform state officials, parents, teachers and other stakeholders.
To create the achievement levels, Smarter Balanced held an in-person panel in Dallas, where close to 500 teachers, school leaders, higher education faculty, parents, business leaders and community leaders reviewed test questions and determined the threshold scores for four achievement levels for each grade and subject area. Member states had representatives at each grade level for grades 3 through 8 and high school. Educators with experience teaching English language learners, students with disabilities and other traditionally under-represented students participated.
The consortium also convened an online panel that gave educators, parents and other members of the community the chance to provide input on the achievement levels. More than 2,500 people participated in the online panel.
A cross-grade review committee made up of 72 members of the in-person panels then used the results of the online and in-person panels to develop recommendations that aligned across grades and reflected student progress from year to year. Finally, Smarter Balanced had an external auditor, an Achievement Level Setting Advisory Panel and its standing Technical Advisory Committee review the recommendations before they were presented to the states for approval. The auditor and both advisory panels certified that Smarter Balanced’s process was consistent with best practices in the field.
In approving the Achievement Levels, Smarter Balanced member states relied primarily on the recommendations from the Achievement Level Setting process. Members also gave consideration to other sources of information about high school students' readiness to engage in credit-bearing college-level work. This included a body of research on the college academic preparedness of high school students conducted by the National Assessment Governing Board, the oversight body for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The Smarter Balanced states will now present the achievement level recommendations to the policy-making bodies with the authority to formally adopt achievement levels in each state — in most cases, the state board of education.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.

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