SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium Math and Writing Specs Flawed

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, Wisconsin’s state assessment will be based on the CCSS. Wisconsin is a governing state within the multi-state consortium called the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER). Through SMARTER, a common state summative assessment will be created and will replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.  Wisconsin is also interested in adopting a college entrance exam as part of a balanced assessment system.

In September 2010, as part of the Race to the Top program, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a total of $330 million to two consortia of states to develop assessments for the Common Core State Standards.  This assessment program:

  • Has the stated goals of:
    • Developing new standardized tests aligned with the Common Core Standards
    • Testing students annually from third grade through high school
    • Providing “ongoing feedback to teachers during the course of the school year” as well as measure annual student growth.
  • Provided federal grants to:
    • Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for $170 million
      • PARCC consists of the District of Columbia plus 25 states that include AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, MS, ND, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC and TN
      • According to the Department of Education, PARCC will “replace the one end-of-year high stakes accountability test with a series of assessments throughout the year that will be averaged into one score for accountability purposes” (emphasis added)
    • SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) for $160 million
      • SBAC consists of 31 states that include AL, CO, CT, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, KS, KY, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, NJ, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, UT, VT, WA, WI, and WV
      • SBAC will test students using computer adaptive technology that will ask students tailored questions based on their previous answers.
      • SBAC “will continue to use one test at the end of the year for accountability purposes,” but will also create a series of interim tests used to inform students, parents, and teachers about whether students are on track.
  • Included twelve states that participated in both consortia:  AL, CO, DE, GA, KY, ND, NH, NJ, OH, OK, PA, and SC
  • Did not have any participation from six states (Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming) plus American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands participated in neither consortium
  • Is scheduled for implementation by the 2014-15 school year.
  • Will, as noted above, include annual multiple administration of standardized tests to students that, as the Department of Education notes, “could replace already existing tests, such as interim assessments that are in common use in many classrooms today” (emphasis added)

U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan Announces Winners of Competition to Improve Student Assessments

Assessment Consortium Math Content Specifications

On August 29, 2011 the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium released a draft of their math content specifications.  The four major claims, or stated end ggoals, of the SBAC assessment are:

• #1: Students can explain and apply mathematical concepts and carry out mathematical procedures with precision and fluency.
• #2: Students can frame and solve a range of complex problems in pure and applied mathematics.
• #3: Students can clearly and precisely construct viable arguments to support their own reasoning and to critique the reasoning of others.
• #4: Students can analyze complex, real-world scenarios and can use mathematical models to interpret and solve problems.

The links to download the specifications draft and its appendix are below.

Content Specifications with Content Mapping for the Summative assessment of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
Available for Consortium and Stakeholder Review and Feedback
August 29, 2011
Developed with input from content experts and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium Staff, Work Group Members, and  Technical Advisory Committee
Project Facilitator:  Linda Darling-Hammond   Stanford University   Palo Alto, CA
Principal Authors
Hugh Burkhardt, Shell Centre, University of Nottingham
Alan Schoenfeld, University of California, Berkeley

Provided Conjunction with Content Specifications with Content Mapping for the Summative assessment of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics


Feedback and Commentary on the SBAC Math Specifications

Guest Post: SBAC Math Specifications Don’t Add Up
W. Stephen Wilson  September 19, 2011   The Thomas B. Fordham Institute Flypaper

The conceptualization of mathematical understanding on which SBAC will base its assessments is deeply flawed.

Mathematical Practices, or what was usually called “process” standards in most states, do little more than describe how someone pretty good at mathematics seems to approach mathematics problems.  As stand alone standards, they are neither teachable nor testable. Mathematics is about solving problems, and anyone who can solve a complex multi-step problem using mathematics automatically demonstrates their skill with the Mathematical Practices, (whether they can communicate well or not).  It appears that the assessments will focus on communication skills and Mathematical Practices over content knowledge.

However, communication assessments do not appear to fare much better:

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the released items relates to how the CCSS writing standards are assessed. Two of the most significant shifts in the CCSS ELA standards are their focus on writing to texts and on shifting from narrative to persuasive and analytic writing through the grades. Unfortunately, neither of these shifts is well represented in the sample items.


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About Jeffrey Horn

Jeffrey D. Horn is a father of four children, a grassroots activist, and a data scientist. He is the author of the essay "LEARNING WITH LEVIATHAN: OBJECTIFICATION, SURVEILLANCE, AND CONTROL IN A CONCEALED COMMAND ECONOMY" in the book "Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards." Earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he also holds a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph. D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A professional programmer, he works daily to build infrastructure that can be used to leverage Big Data in improving advertising, medical decisions, investing, and more. Very conscious of the tension that exists between technology and personal freedom, he has been educating and advocating against Common Core and high-stakes testing in Wisconsin for several years. Over the course of 2013 and 2014, he spearheaded an initiative to unite a variety of organizations and individuals on Common Core related issues for the purpose of sending several open letters to state-level public officials in Wisconsin. The letters ultimately helped to ensure a series of public hearings on Common Core at locations around the state in late 2013. You can contact Jeff via email at or via Twitter: @jeffreydhorn

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