Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

Two years of high school testing go down the drain as the state changes the new standardized tests it adopted in 2014. But sometimes you have to gain something to lose something, according to the Agency of Education’s director of assessment.

At least three years of test results are needed to analyze trends, and “this three-year rule is important in Vermont’s small schools, where one bright student can tip the average and make it look like there was a positive change,” said Michael Hock, adding that it also works in the opposite direction.

Last spring, for the third time, students in grades three through eight and grade 11 across Vermont took the online Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, called SBAC.

The kicker is that only the scores for the last two years counted — because the first was just a trial run — and next spring the group of students taking the test will shift to grades three through nine, making the 11th-grade data essentially useless.

“It makes it really difficult to look at data when the state changes the cohort of students involved,” said Catherine Gallagher, superintendent of Lamoille North schools.

Tracy Wrend, superintendent of Lamoille South schools, says the results aren’t completely useless, but would have been more valuable with more than two years of data.

“The outcomes give us information about individual student performance and school performance that we will share and use,” she said. “The usefulness of data is enhanced, however, when we have multiple years of data and some cohort continuity, which we don’t and won’t have for the 11th grade SBAC.”

In terms of analyzing trends, using rolling averages, and viewing outcomes through accountability lenses, schools will be able to do that for grades three through eight for the first time this year, but need to wait a few years for grade nine.

“At least we do have the benefit of many other schoolwide assessments that we can still look at,” Gallagher said.

Unfortunately, there is no test like the SBAC, though, as it “does something the others don’t,” Hock said. “It’s the only common standard to compare students statewide.”

That’s why, even in an age where school is becoming more student-driven, and focus is shifting from measuring what students know to how they can use what they know to create real-world, tangible outputs, state testing will continue.

The SBAC tests are designed to measure critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They are scored on a scale of 2,000 to 3,000 points, and the score can be used to illustrate a student’s or a group of students’ growth over time. It can also show state, school or district-level changes in performance.

By shifting the grades taking the test, the SBACs will provide seven continuous years of results for each student, allowing for easier measurement of growth.

The change will also free up 11th-graders to take one of many tests that are more relevant to students preparing for college, including the SAT, ACT and ASVAB — an aptitude test for the armed services — which will now be free to all students regardless of poverty level.

Eleventh-graders will, however, still be required to take the standardized science test, which will be field-tested in May.

The new statewide science test will replace the former New England Common Assessment Program, and align with the Next Generation Science Standards. Unlike the New England assessment, which was taken by grades four, eight and 11, the new one will be administered to grades five, eight and 11, creating evenly spaced cohorts of students to better follow growth.

The agency of education will use a computer delivery system that is very similar to the Smarter Balanced system for English language arts and mathematics. The current plan calls for two, one-hour test sessions that will cover the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts that are the foundation of the next generation standards. Full implementation will be in May 2019.

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