The Smarter Balanced Assessment Was Created for Teacher Evaluations

14119968391_b4b1ba7c2a_kAs our legislature considers a new test for our students that will align with Iowa’s Common Core standards, the Iowa Department of Education has thrown its support behind the Smarter Balanced Assessment, created by a federally funded Consortium whose governing board will now reside at the University of California. Besides the questionable wisdom of picking a test over which Iowans will have little say, and one who will be financially overseen by the California Board of Regents rather than the Iowa Board of Regents, there is now another issue about these tests that we should be talking about: teacher evaluations.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment was created as a result of a $160 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education. And as most of us know, when you accept federal money, it always comes with strings attached. In other words, you must comply with all terms in the grant in order to get the money. When I read the 2011 grant (PR/Award #: S395B100003 and S395B100003A), I found the following statement on page 2, Article 1, part B:

the assessment systems will produce data (including student achievement data and student growth data) that can be used to inform (a) determinations of school effectiveness; (b) determinations of individual principal and teacher effectiveness for purposes of evaluation; (c) determinations of principal and teacher professional development and support needs; and (d) teaching, learning, and program improvement” (emphasis mine)

You read that correctly. The U.S. Department of Education grant required that the test be specifically created to produce data to evaluate teachers and principals. Even the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s own governance documents state the expectation that through the assessment’s “application of sophisticated measurement models, Smarter Balanced summative assessments are designed to yield scores that can be used to support evaluations of student performance and growth, as well as school, teacher, and principal effectiveness in an efficient and fair manner”. (p. 3, item 5, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Governance Structure Document, emphasis mine)

So the Iowa Department of Education is recommending an assessment for Iowa children which was not created by Iowans, whose governance will not be based in Iowa nor any future development based at an Iowa university, and was specifically created to meet the requirement for teacher evaluation. So the question I would ask the Iowa Department of Education, the state teachers union and our legislators is this: why? Why would you all want to recommend a test with not only all the above issues, but also one whose very creators admitted that more research would need to be done before the chosen achievement level descriptors (cut scores) can be validated for efficacy? Do we really want our teachers measured by something so arbitrary and untested? Also important to note: the SBAC test is an adaptive test. This means that the questions get harder or easier depending on how a student answers the previous ones. The more questions answered wrong, the easier the test gets, and the quicker the student finishes. And since these new assessments will be 7-9 hours long (double the current test), are taken at the end of the year, won’t affect either a child’s current grade or grade advancement, what do you think many of our children will do? Considering all of this risk, how could any Iowa teacher possibly be evaluated fairly from year to year, from child to child, using this SBAC assessment?

Of course, we will be told that these new tests will never be used to evaluate our teachers, even though they were created with that specific feature set. That although the feature set can easily be queried, it will never be peeked at or accessed. That pressure will never be placed on our teachers to teach to the test, nor our principals and superintendents to rate higher those teachers who turn out better test takers than better students. And schools will never remove children from other important class subjects in order to focus more time on the two subjects (English and Math) on this assessment. Nope, that will never happen.

“Trust us”.


  1. Why are you focused on just one of the four purposes listed?

Leave a Reply