Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?  That’s the question we’ll try to address in this blog post.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) released scale scores for math and ELA (English Language Arts) aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

In their release to the public on November 17, Smarter Balance announced that:

Members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have voted to approve initial achievement levels for the mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) assessments that will be administered in 17 states and one territory this school year. The vote marks an important milestone in the development of the assessment system (emphasis mine).

So, a vote was taken (according to their press release) to approve a set of scale scores that will be used next year to evaluate students in 17 states when they sit at computers to take tests in math and ELA in grades 3 – 8 and high school.  Smarter Balanced explains that because the Common Core content standards set higher expectations for kids, then the new computer based tests will be more difficult.  Why?  Well, Smarter Balanced simply raised the bar, and they have no problem in stating that:

It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve.

Fewer students experiencing success is another perfect set up for failure.

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium smart, or is it dumb?

The answer to this lies in reading their comments about what they have done to set up a testing program that is based on false claims.  For example, they tell us that even though kids will not do very well when the tests come on-line, they are sure to improve over time.   They don’t improve over time, and we have more than a decade of results to show this.  Furthermore, raising the bar (supposedly making the standards more difficult, rigorous, demanding–choose your own descriptor) does not affect achievement test scores, as measured the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  In a study looking at the relationship between the quality of standards and student NAEP scores, the correlations ranged from -0.60.08.  We interpret these correlations a moderate downhill (negative) relationship to weak uphill (positive) relationship.

That said, shouldn’t would conclude that Smarter Balanced should be the Dumb and Dumber Unbalanced Assessment?

And one more thing.

I have reported in earlier research on this blog that many researchers have concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core State Standards.  In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Voting on the Scale Scores: What’s this mean?

It amazes me that the members of an organization can vote on scale scores (real numbers), and think that this has meaning.  For instance, Figure 1 shows the mathematics threshold scale scores for grades 3 – 11.  It’s a nice graph, isn’t it.  And the graph is accompanied in their Smarter Balanced press release with a very colorful chart estimating the percentage of students who will score at each level by grade level.

Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014.  Source: media@smarterbalanced.org

Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014. Source: media@smarterbalanced.org. Extracted on November 17.

Here is the graph that displays the percent of students who will fail or pass.

Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade.  Note that between 27 - 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014

Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade. Note that between 27 – 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014

Are Standards and Aligned Assessments Scientific?

It’s a fair question. It’s a fair question because most of the 17 states will input student test scores into a mathematical algorithm called the Value Added Model to check the efficacy and quality of a teacher, and then use this number to decide upon the “grade” or assessment of the teacher. In some states, more than 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on this mathematical algorithm.

So, are standards and the aligned assessments scientific.

No they are not.

In her ground breaking book, Reign of error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Librarys), Diane Ravitch takes on this issue. Here is what she says:

All definitions of education standards are subjective. People who set standards use their own judgment to decide what students ought to know and how well they should know it. People use their own judgment to decide the passing mark on a test. None of this is science. It is human judgment, subject to error and bias ; the passing mark may go up or down, and the decision about what students should know in which grades may change, depending on who is making the decisions and whether they want the test to be hard or easy or just right. All of these are judgmental decisions, not science. (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1033-1035). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

The Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (one of two aligned Common Core assessments) have along with its private corporate sponsors, and neo-liberal foundations such as Gates, Walton, Broad and others, have set up the perfect trap to fail millions of students, blame and then fire teachers, and then bring in privately run charter school management systems.

Think I’m kidding?  What do you think?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.

...and I'M STILL FOR HER.

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