Smarter Balanced Delays Spur Headaches in Wisconsin, Montana, and Elsewhere

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 27, 2015 3 min read
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If you’re looking for a state with significant troubles with the transition to a new assessment, Wisconsin might be it. But it’s not the only state experiencing at least a delay in administering the Smarter Balanced assessment.

The Wisconsin education department has announced a delay in the start of the Smarter Balanced test, Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported today. Originally, the state planned to begin the administration of Smarter Balanced, which is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, on March 30, with the testing window open until May 22. However, because of problems with the state’s online testing platform, 375,000 Wisconsin students in grades 3-8 won’t begin taking the test until April 13—and the testing window will still only remain open until May 22.

“These latest problems with (the testing service company) and the additional delay are incredibly frustrating,” state Superintendent Tony Evers said in a March 26 email quoted by Richards. That testing service company is Educational Testing Service, or ETS.

However, district officials have also said that the delay isn’t necessarily very disruptive. Now the tests will begin after many Wisconsin schools’ spring break, instead of being interrupted by that vacation time, they noted.

So why do I say that Wisconsin is having particularly significant difficulties with Smarter Balanced? Remember that last month, Wisconsin, along with Michigan and Missouri, announced that due to technical problems it would not offer a feature of Smarter Balanced known as adaptive testing that presents students with questions based on their prior answers. And according to Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin also announced that it was eliminating the performance tasks from Smarter Balanced in the state—these present topics or questions requiring relatively complex answers from students.

Smarter Balanced has told me that there shouldn’t be a significant impact on scores from tests not using the adaptive feature, a statement that is open for discussion. But the scaled-back version of Smarter Balanced without performance tasks only raises more questions as to how reliably Wisconsin students’ results, for example, can be compared to results from other Smarter Balanced states.

Delays in Multiple States Reported

Wisconsin isn’t the only state having problems with administering the test.

On March 25, the Montana education department announced that it was postponing the start of Smarter Balanced in the state after it ran into problems with its vendor, Measured Progress. (States administering the Smarter Balanced test don’t all have to use the same vendor.) Derek Brouwer of the Billings Gazette wrote that it was the second delay of Smarter Balanced in Montana this month—testing was originally due to start March 18, but then had to be pushed to March 18 due to testing issues.

At least 3,700 students in Montana will be impacted by the decision to delay the start of the testing window, which closes in May.

North Dakota has also experienced multiple delays in administering Smarter Balanced. As of March 25, the state, which cited a “problematic anomaly” with the state’s “test delivery system,” said a new testing date had not yet been announced. And the Nevada education department had to delay the start of Smarter Balanced by two weeks, from March 16 to March 30, due to “technical problems reported by Nevada’s test provider.”

Photo: State schools superintendent Tony Evers joins with Democratic state lawmakers to call on Republicans to vote against the state budget in July 2013, in Madison, Wis. Scott Bauer/AP-File

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