A consortium of 31 states including Washington has been awarded a $160 million Race to the Top grant, officials announced today in Olympia. The award marks the first time a group of states will collaborate formally to design a single system for assessing student achievement.
The group of states, called the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) will use the grant to develop an assessment system aligned with the new Common Core State Standards for schools across the nation.
While the grant is commendable, it's far from what the state had hoped for. Washington was one of 35 states and the District of Columbia that applied for individual Race to the Top grants, some of which have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. In the latest round, announced last month, this state finished 31st, scoring just 290.6 on a 500-point scale.
The standards, released in June, were developed with the oversight of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. The goal is to ensure that the nation's 12th-graders will be college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school.
Forty-one states have agreed to use the standards — including Washington, where schools superintendent Randy Dorn provisionally approved them for adoption in July. According to posts at the Office of Public Instruction website, teachers and administrators across the state are meeting through the fall to create a plan for implementing the core standards, which OSPI will ask the state legislature to sign into law in January.
In its role as SBAC's lead state, Washington made the application for Race to the Top funding. Its leadership position seems appropriate, considering the state's reputation for innovation in computer technology: the coalition's plan is to use open-source technologies for developing a assessments based on online exams. The exams will be adaptable to ensure that all students, from high achievers to second-language learners to youngsters with disabilities, can be evaluated fairly.
They also will be designed to avoid redundancy — so students who demonstrate mastery in a particular area will not be mechanically assessed the same way again and again by "one-size-fits-all" tests. And the design will include more than mandated end-of-term exams used for drawing conclusions about how a student has done. Optional tests will also be provided, which can ascertain how a student is doing in a particular area of knowledge and skills at any time throughout the year so that classroom instruction can be adapted to each student's needs.
The goal of the assessment test system, according to today's statement from OSPI, is to measure each student's progress on "a pathway to career and college readiness." Scores from the tests also will be used "for improved educator accountability and to help identify professional development needs of teachers and principals," according to the statement.
Race to the Top funding will begin on Oct. 1, when SBAC's executive committee, composed of individuals from several member states, will begin studying testing methods based on each of the core standards. The tests will be designed next spring and will involve teachers of grades 3-8 and 11, from the 31 states comprising the coalition.