Education Commissioner expresses concerns about Smarter Balanced


New Hampshire is on the governing board of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and has administered the Smarter Balanced Assessment for the past two years.  SBAC will probably bid on the New Hampshire Department of Education’s RFP seeking a new assessment vendor.

When are Smarter Balanced assessment scores available?

At the April 6, 2017 SBOE meeting, commissioner Edelblut cited problems he sees with the test.  First, he said (here on the video) that turnaround time for test scores is an issue:

“And then a third thing I guess I want to highlight here is that I’m looking for an assessment tool that is going to allow us to provide timely and easily understood feedback both to educators so that that can become formative for the student because we know that the Smarter Balanced academic feedback is not available sometimes until the next year, so that is not very useful in terms of being formative for those particular students and, as well, I want to see feedback get back to parents quickly so that the parents are engaged in the process and understand how that assessment process is working for their particular student and so I want that feedback to be timely and accessible to parents so that they can understand the standard and be engaged in the student process.”

This statement brings up a couple of questions.  According to the New Hampshire Department of Education, student’s Smarter Balanced test scores were available to their schools last year within three weeks, often in much shorter times, and this year, the department anticipates that scores will be back in 10 days on average.

There may also be a misunderstanding about the meaning of “formative.”  The annual assessment required by NH statute is a “summative assessment,” which does not provide formative information.  The difference is shown in this table.  It would be a mistake to counsel parents to use the Smarter Balanced assessment as formative information.

What does commissioner Edelblut mean by “longitudinal data”?

Later in the meeting, commissioner Edelblut said,

“One of the things I find curious is that when we started working with Smarter Balanced, even though we have been working with it, they still have no longitudinal data.  Whereas there are other…there are assessment tools in the field today that, when our students engage with them, they will immediately provide us longitudinal information for college and career readiness.  I would hope that that would be something that, as we get the different proposals in, that we would have.”

There may be a misunderstanding here as well.  It is the responsibility of the State, not the vendor, to maintain longitudinal student data.  New Hampshire and most other states do that in their Longitudinal Data Systems.  Smarter Balanced and other vendors provide all the data needed to measure longitudinal growth of New Hampshire students and statutory accountability requirements.

There are tests that provide comparisons to other students who took the same test at the same time (not back in time), placing them all on a normal curve.  The most famous of these is the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, now called the Iowa Assessments.  Those normative comparisons can be useful to an individual parent and the test could be used by any school (the Iowa test,  aligned to the Iowa Core, is popular among homeschoolers) , states other than Iowa have not considered it suitable for accountability purposes.

Nonetheless, the RFP says on the cover page,

The content of the ELA, mathematics and science assessments must align with (emphasis added):

• Appropriate representations of the New Hampshire’s grade level academic standards for ELA, mathematics and science. (NH RSA193-C:3 III); and

Nationally and/or internationally recognized academic standard(s) with demonstrable longitudinal data supporting both student growth and student achievement models leading to college and career readiness.

It’s not clear what either of those bullets means but the second bullet about longitudinal data and internationally recognized standards probably does not conform with New Hampshire statutory requirements.