Why West Virginia Would Be Better Off Sticking With Smarter Balanced


The West Virginia Board of Education is considering replacing Smarter Balanced exams for the state’s high school students, the West Virginia Metro News reports. New tests for high school students would be fully implemented in the 2018-19 school year, if the proposal is finalized.

Statistics from the past two years show that many high school students rushed through the exams. “I don’t know whether it’s based on the ability of our students, or they just did not take the exam seriously,” said state Superintendent Michael Martirano.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, Martirano added, gives states the flexibility to make such adjustments. “I’m about taking full advantage of the federal flexibility that allows us to customize our own set of assessments to a high level of standards,” he said.

Even while state leaders have indicated their intention to replace Smarter Balanced in high schools with a similarly high-quality test (Martirano notes that the new exam must be comparable and aligned to the state’s College and Career Ready Standards), the move threatens to create disruption for students and teachers.

Jim Cowen noted previously that “going it alone” on student assessments has proven a poor decision for states. “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.”

A Chalkbeat article last year 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.”

It is every state’s prerogative to decide which assessment is right for their students. But evidence underscores Smarter Balanced is among the best indicator of 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.

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

Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, says states like West Virginia that decide to strike out on their own should kick the tires of their new tests to ensure they provide an accurate measure of student growth. “It may turn out that their tests…are also sound, but we won’t know until somebody gets under their hoods to see.”

West Virginia policymakers would be wise to think long and hard about replacing the state’s Smarter Balanced assessment, even if only for high school students. Others that took the same path have reaped more disruption than good from going it alone. It’s likely West Virginia’s decision would set back students and teachers more than it would help.