With states increasingly having walked away from the common-core-aligned tests developed by two federally funded consortia—especially at the high school level—one of those assessment groups is looking to hit the refresh button with a new type of test: one that is useful for both federal accountability and college admissions.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium put out a request for proposals on Monday seeking a partnership with a group that provides a college-admission test accepted by at least 200 colleges and universities—in other words, either ACT or the College Board, which administers the SAT.
The idea is to create a hybrid test that would give students both a Smarter Balanced score and a college-entrance score (though the RFP notes other innovative solutions will be considered).
“The only thing surprising to me about this is that it didn’t happen sooner,” said Chris Domaleski, an associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, a nonprofit consulting group that is not involved in the effort. “I think it is a very clever idea for Smarter Balanced to explore the potential for collaboration with a college-admission test provider.”
As the RFP lays it out, a combined test could help reduce the amount of time high school students, many of whom take the SAT or ACT in addition to state assessments, spend on testing. It might also give high school students more incentive to do well on the SBAC exam.
Market Share Concerns
But the move is ultimately, no doubt, an effort to keep the consortium financially viable.
Smarter Balanced has a number of reasons to worry about its market share these days.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law passed in December 2015, invited states to use college-entrance exams, rather than standards-based tests, to measure high school achievement. A dozen states are already using the ACT or SAT for this purpose, as my colleague Catherine Gewertz has written. (Though it’s worth noting that testing experts have questioned that practice, saying tests can only reliably measure what they’ve been specifically designed to measure.)
Further, over the last two years, support for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced assessments, both of which were federally funded to align with the Common Core State Standards, has eroded significantly. Fourteen states are now using the Smarter Balanced test at any grade level, down from 18 two years ago. Just nine states now use Smarter Balanced at the high school level.
“Despite what some may have predicted when the consortia launched several years ago, college-admissions tests do not appear to be going away,” said Domaleski. “The value of a partnership to Smarter [Balanced] seems clear to me: It would add credibility and help secure their long-term viability.”
A collaboration could be helpful for the SAT or ACT market share as well (though those testing programs are well-established at this point).
ESSA also allows states to grant individual districts the ability to substitute a “nationally recognized” high school test for whatever test the state is using. Just last week, California’s Long Beach district asked if it could use the SAT instead of the state’s required Smarter Balanced test—but the Golden State said no.
If other states are inclined to do the same—refuse districts’ requests to use college-entrance exams—then the SAT and ACT providers would do well to have the option of a hybrid test.
Smarter Balanced notes that a potential new test would not replace the existing Smarter Balanced high school assessment, but rather would be in addition to the current offerings, a Q&A sheet sent to consortia members explains. Smarter Balanced expects to have responses to the RFP in late March and to select a winning proposal by May.
The RFP is still exploratory so, of course, many questions remain. For example, I’m wondering—would a score generated by such a test be comparable to a score generated by a typical ACT or SAT test? Or would there be a separate scale?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.