State: This time around, SBAC grading goes smoothly

This time around, the State Department of Education says it worked out the bugs with Idaho’s new and controversial online assessment.

More students took the test, and grading has gone more smoothly, a department spokesman said.

Jeff Church
Jeff Church

“Testing went very well this spring and all tests have been scored and returned to the schools,” Jeff Church told Idaho Education News Monday.

That’s a big change from 2015, and the formal launch of Idaho’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam. Vendors had pledged to provide scores within a 10-day window, but this didn’t happen.

Test results were delayed due to a variety of reasons, including technical glitches and a shortage of hired graders. As a result, many schools didn’t receive student scores until summer break.

This year, the schools and districts are already privy to SBAC test results, Church said.

However, it’s unclear when the state will get results, and make the numbers public. The state is still waiting on preliminary results from test vendors, Church said — and once those numbers are in, schools and districts will have the chance to file appeals.

Last year, the department issued preliminary statewide results in July, then followed up with final scores in late October.

Meanwhile, another potential SBAC problem became a nonissue this year. Despite widespread grumbling about the tests — from parents and from some school administrators — the department saw no evidence of an opt-out movement, on a statewide or local level.

“There was significant growth in the number of students tested, and participation overall was well over 95 percent,” Church said.

That 95 percent threshold is important, because it’s ingrained in federal education law. States are required to administer a standardized test. If student participation falls short of the 95 percent mark, the feds say they can withhold state school funding. And even though the new Every Student Succeeds Act rolls back some federal mandates from the No Child Left Behind era, the 95 percent testing requirement remains intact.

Despite a smoother second year for the SBAC, its long-term future remains unclear.

Some school superintendents have urged the state to drop the time-consuming online assessments, and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra has indicated she is willing to drop the SBAC after Idaho’s three-year testing contract expires.

The new ESSA law does give states more latitude to pick a statewide assessment — as long as it is administered in the third through eighth grades, and once again in high school. And even before ESSA became law, some states have chosen to drop tests such as SBAC.

The SBAC exam is named for the consortium that developed an exam for Idaho and other states. SBAC is one of two multistate exams designed to align to states’ Common Core standards.