Eliminating Smarter Balanced May Be More Costly Than West Virginia Thinks

A recent editorial in West Virginia’s Beckley Register-Herald praises the state’s Board of Education for eliminating the use of Smarter Balanced assessments for students in grades 9 and 10 and replacing the test for 11th graders by 2018. According to the editors the move away from Smarter Balanced was “a good one.” As they wrote, “Now, teachers will be able to get a handle on how well their students are learning without the pressure of preparing for an unnecessary test that was a bad fit for West Virginia kids.”

However, the editors fail to recognize that evidence shows Smarter Balanced to be among the best indicators of college- and career-readiness and provides parents and teachers with accurate, actionable information about how well their students are progressing towards finishing high school prepared for post-secondary success.

As Pam Reilly, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year, wrote previously Smarter Balanced exams “aren’t perfect. No test is.” She added, “I can say with confidence these new assessments are the kind we should want our kids to take.”

Many states voluntarily chose to use assessments like Smarter Balanced or PARCC because they do a great job of measuring the core skills students need to graduate high school prepared for college and careers, and because they allow states to compare how well their schools are doing to others across the country.

The Beckley Register-Herald also implies that eliminating Smarter Balanced assessments will help remove “layers of bureaucracy and unnecessary busywork” and create a more  “streamlined and improved” environment for the Mountain State. Apparently, they have yet to hear from those education leaders in Alabama that have already warned West Virginians of the opposite.

Alabama, which also uses standards derived from the Common Core, followed a state review process (just like West Virginia) and recently chose to move from Smarter Balanced to the ACT Aspire. Unfortunately, ACT Aspire may not be aligned with those standards and may well be developmentally inappropriate – testing students on material they aren’t learning. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education has placed a condition on Alabama’s Title I federal funding over questions of alignment.

An Alabama Board of Education member cautioned West Virginians about the costs of a shift, “If West Virginia buys in, they are making a grave mistake, and they will pay for it.”

It is every state’s prerogative to decide which assessment is right for their students.  But as Collaborative for Student Success Executive Director Jim Cowen has said previously, “going it alone” on student assessments has proven to be a poor decision for states.   Not only will the implementation costs be significant for states, but the costs to students, teachers, and parents will also be great.

Now that West Virginia has decided to move forward with eliminating Smarter Balanced, we will see if they can buck that trend – and hope that they keep the best interests of students in mind as they choose a new assessment.