Home Education Academic Testing in Highline Schools – Background

Academic Testing in Highline Schools – Background

By Stuart Jenner

Know any students in the Highline schools who are in grades 3 and higher? Spring is testing time, and they are likely taking end-of-year assessments soon, maybe even this week. In this story, I outline the background of some of the tests students are taking. In future weeks, I will write stories about the results of tests taken in the past few years by elementary, middle, and high school students. The tests discussed here are the SBA, SAT, PSAT, iReady, Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate (IB).

  1. The SBA, or Smarter Balanced Assessment

All students in grades 3-8, and also 10th-grade students, take the SBA (also sometimes called the SBAC, after the creator, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). It is an online test, given once a year, for English and for Math. 

The SBA was created to provide a way of measuring growth against the Common Core standards. There is no uniform testing date for schools to take the SBA; each school sets its own dates. But usually, the test is in May. (There was also a fall SBA in the fall of 2021, but this was because students could not take the test in spring 2021 due to Covid.) That fall 2021 SBA is shown in reports as the 2021 assessment.)

As an online test, the people who created SBA could create a very different structure than a traditional paper test. The English and Math questions are adaptive (which means the questions students view are based on whether the student was right or wrong on the previous question.)

The state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Highline School District SBA section of the website both have more information on the SBA. 

If you want to try the tests, samples for all grades are available on the state website.

The school district website has a brief statement about opting out. The first step is to meet with the school’s principal.

Is the SBA a valid test?  

Should we trust the results? Can we use the test results to say whether a student, a school, a district, or a state is succeeding or failing?  

This is a complicated set of questions. First, the state data portal gives a percentage of school, district, and state students passing. But “passing” is defined as getting a 3 or 4 on the SBAC. The achievement levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 are meant to indicate progress toward mastery of the knowledge and skills in the Common Core Standards at their given grade level. They are not meant to be an indicator of failing students.

Complicating matters further, the definition or cut score is set by a committee, as explained here. Thus, a score of “2” one year could be a “3” the following year … or maybe it would be a “1”. Keeping track of changes to cut scores is beyond the scope of this article. A more significant point: the SBA has not been around long enough to tell if a score at one level correlates with academic outcomes after high school.

In writing this article, I found several critiques from when the test was first being rolled out. For example, a 2015 critique is the foundation for an article by a University of Colorado professor. There are over 40,000 math questions, and no one (teachers, administrators, students, parents) can see the actual questions students were tested on.  

Has the SBA changed or improved since these critiques were written? Are the findings useful? Well …. Take a look at a sample report on the OSPI website . Does this tell students what they need to work on; for example, they should know times tables up to 5, but not beyond there? Or that the student needs to work on effectively using commas and punctuation marks? The answers are “no” and “no.”

In conclusion, I think we need to be aware that SBA has some limits. I advise parents to “do your own diagnostics, using problem sets from resources such as IXL math.” The standards for any given year are explained on this website about Common Core. But I like IXL because they use words that make sense, not the “eduspeak” of Common Core. I also like the worksheets at Kuta, which are available for pre-Algebra and higher.  

  1. The PSAT and the SAT

The SAT is going digital! Taking it will present a new set of challenges and opportunities. All Highline students have had the opportunity to take the PSAT during the school day in grades 9, 10, and 11. All 11th-grade students take the SAT in March. While many colleges are going test-optional, many still accept the scores. Only a few colleges will never look at scores. A good SAT score can open doors for students who might otherwise be overlooked, especially if they are in a curriculum like Highline’s, where there are rarely, if ever, Honors Classes and advanced math pathways are being eliminated.

  1. iReady

iReady is an ongoing assessment tool, given throughout the year. Highline’s web page has a good explanation. Results are available for parents but not provided to the state.

This test is also digital. I have heard some people will “max out,” where they take the hardest questions available, then iReady will stop giving them questions. So what level is the student at? The test results will show one number, but the actual level might be higher.

  1. Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Tests

These tests are also given in May and June. AP classes are available to high school students of all Highline Schools except at Mt Rainier, which has the International Baccalaureate program. Students can earn college credits through these tests but should be aware credit policies vary. Some colleges will have more generous policies than others. 

For AP, some students will also self-study. My daughter took a Psychology class elsewhere and then was able to take the AP Psychology test at Highline High School. Students will need to sign up in the fall; if a test is not offered at their school, they must find a testing school and request the school to allow them to take it.


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