High-Quality Assessments = Better Information about Student Academic Progress

Reporting on a recent audit of Oregon’s Smarter Balanced assessments, a KOIN 6 Portland article claims that the findings suggest the exams are “in need of some repairs.” Many parents don’t understand the purpose of the assessments, the article says, and “the many hours taken out of learning time for the tests is a sore spot for many parents, teachers and students.”

Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association, argues the audit shows the state is “putting too much emphasis on standardized testing. We need to use assessment time efficiently.”

High-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure student development, and to provide support where students need it most. Evidence indicates Smarter Balanced is one of the best exams available, and Oregon is on the right path using it.

After administering Smarter Balanced assessments for the first time last year, Oregon narrowed its discrepancies between state-reported proficiency rates and those found by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) by 24 points in English and 19 points in math, according to the Honesty Gap analysis.

But states like Oregon need to make sure that parents are receiving the right information and understand the value of these assessments.

“Parents and educators deserve honest, accurate information about how well their students are performing, and the extent to which they have a solid foundation for their continued learning,” explains Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. “Tests are not the only source of this information, but they are certainly an important one. We don’t do our students any favors if we don’t level with them when test results come back.”

Alongside the Smarter Balanced assessments, parents are receiving new score reports that provide them with more and better information about how students are progressing academically, and what parents and educators can do to help them succeed. (Check out the Collaborative’s primer on new score reports here for more information)

Evidence also makes clear Smarter Balanced is one of the best assessments available to states. Independent analyses by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute find the consortium exam outperforms states’ old “bubble tests” and even most next-generation assessments. Specifically, both reports note Smarter Balanced accurately reflects student understanding, aligns well with good classroom instruction and match up well with states’ learning goals.

Because of those qualities, Smarter Balanced alleviates pressures to “teach to the test.” In fact, because they align closely with what’s taught in the classroom, good instruction is the best preparation for the exam teachers can provide. And, unlike states’ old tests, Smarter Balanced exams hone in on students’ understanding of a subject, providing accurate, actionable information for parents and teachers.

Other states that have “gone it alone” on student assessments should serve as a cautionary example for Oregon policymakers. Overwhelmingly, those states have incurred significant costs and disruptions, and may very well come out with inferior tests.

“Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process,” Jim Cowen cautions.

A recent Chalkbeat article reiterates that point: “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”

By administering Smarter Balanced assessments, states like Oregon provide parents and educators with accurate, actionable data to best support their students. To turn back on that commitment would do a disservice to families, teachers and students. Oregon officials can continue to fine tune and improve their assessments, but to get rid of Smarter Balanced would be a step in the wrong direction.