In About-Face, S.C. State Board Votes to Stick With Smarter Balanced Test

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 11, 2014 2 min read
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On April 3, South Carolina Deputy Superintendent Nancy Busbee wrote to districts in the state telling them to suspend field testing of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s test because the state was withdrawing from the consortium. Just six days later, the state board voted to do the opposite.

At its April 9 meeting, state board members voted not to adopt a motion introduced by the state education department to withdraw from Smarter Balanced. Apparently, the recommendation was first introduced in one of the state board’s committees, the Policy and Legislative Committee. Committee members initially refused to take it up and to place it on the full state board’s meeting agenda, but it eventually made it onto the full meeting schedule any way, and that’s where the vote to stick with Smarter Balanced took place.

In the video, you can see Barry Bolen, chairman of the state board, speak against the proposal from Busbee before the vote. Bolen says the state has invested too much in the tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards to back out now. Pulling the plug right when schools are trying out the Smarter Balanced test (with no replacement lined up) would be very poor timing. (Bolen begins these comments at about the 3:37:50 mark.)

“We’ve been spending a lot of time implementing and training teachers and preparing for full implementation in 14-15, and I don’t think we should retreat from that. You know, we’re six weeks from being out of school,” he said, referring to the 2014-15 school year when Smarter Balanced tests will count.

State Superintendent Mick Zais rejected Bolen’s argument, however, saying that the work of implementation and preparation is really connected with the common core, not Smarter Balanced, except for the actual field-testing. (Zais is an opponent of the common core.)

So why was the state education department pushing to withdraw from Smarter Balanced? Busbee indicated to the state board that the department was simply anticipating “numerous” proposals in the state legislature to require the state to ultimately pick another assessment.

Board member Jim Griffith, however, said it made no sense to him for the state board to take the plunge the state department desired just because such ideas were being kicked around in the legislature.

However, acting on Busbee’s letter, some districts had in fact decided to suspend field-testing of Smarter Balanced before the state board’s April 9 meeting, state board member David Blackmon informed board members. Blackmon also worried that based on what the state had done so far, Smarter Balanced might actually drop the state before the state could drop them. So from a statewide perspective, Smarter Balanced field-testing might become a very jumbled picture. To what extent will Busbee’s letter cause actual implementation problems for Smarter Balanced’s test in South Carolina?

Although the state board approved the use of Smarter Balanced tests back in 2012, the state’s Education Oversight Committee must still approve of those assessments before they’re official in South Carolina. That vote hasn’t been held yet.

The murky situation in South Carolina highlights the increasingly fragmented mosaic of states’ assessment plans. It’s gotten more complicated than membership in either Smarter Balanced or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.