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Alaska's Standards Underwent Scrutiny For Consortium Membership

Yesterday we reported that Alaska had joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. This was intriguing, as we told you, because Alaska never adopted the Common Core State Standards that undergird the SBAC test development. How does a state embrace an exam based on a set of standards that it didn't adopt?

We decided to ask a bit more about this, so we reached out to officials of Smarter Balanced. Executive Director Joe Willhoft confirmed for us that Alaska did not adopt the common core; instead, it has its own state standards.

To determine if Alaska could participate in the consortium, "an independent analysis was required to ensure that their standards were substantially the same" as the common standards adopted by the other states, Willhoft told me in an email. "That analysis demonstrated that the Alaska standards are similar enough to the [Common Core State Standards] that ... an assessment aligned to [the common core] could be used as a valid assessment in Alaska."

Facilitating this membership were two key amendments to Smarter Balanced's governance document, SBAC spokesman Eddie Arnold explained in an email. They were undertaken in consultation with the U.S. Department of Education, which is funding the assessment work.

A September 2012 revision to section II.A of the document allows states to join the consortium if they have adopted "college and career ready standards" in English/language arts and math.

Another revision to the same section, undertaken last month, clarifies that if a state seeks consortium membership through that route, it must demonstrate that its own standards are "substantially identical to standards adopted by all states across the consortium and that any additional content standards do not comprise more than 15 percent of the state's total standards for that content area."

Those changes reflect the requirements in the U.S. Department of Education's original Notice Inviting Applications for the Race to the Top assessment funding, Arnold said.

That notice, originally issued in April 2010, says in its eligibility section that to belong to a consortium, a state must "adopt a common set of college- and career-ready standards (as defined in this notice)" by the end of 2011.

In its definitions section, the notice says, among other things, that a "common set of college- and career-ready standards" means a set that is "substantially identical across all states in the consortium."

The other consortium, PARCC, which Alaska had also approached last year about potential membership, conveyed to the state that its Memorandum of Understanding requires that a state adopt a "common set of college and career ready standards," according to PARCC spokesman Chad Colby. He added, however, that while this is currently applicable, PARCC, since it has reorganized as a nonprofit, "may choose to amend these rules at any time."

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