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Washington State Universities Will Use Smarter Balanced Test Scores for Placement

Public colleges and universities in Washington state have announced that they will use the college-readiness determination from the 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessment in course-placement decisions.

The announcement is significant because it puts teeth into the most pivotal claim of the common-core initiative: that a "college ready" score on consortium tests means a student is prepared to perform well in entry-level, credit-bearing work.

Until recently, this claim lived in the land of abstractia. Smarter Balanced and PARCC have been designing tests that aim to live up to that standard. And in order to get their federal funding, the two consortia had to enlist pledges of support from hefty chunks of their states' public higher-education systems. In their applications for funding in 2010, both consortia enlisted support from a hefty portion of their states' colleges and universities.

But those were just pledges in principle; the systems that signed on were pledging support only to the idea of tests that demonstrated college readiness. What they would do once they saw the finished assessments—and the cut scores for college readiness—was anyone's guess.

The decision by Washington state's public universities and its community and technical colleges is one of the first steps out of the abstract into the concrete. The public colleges and universities in West Virginia, too, have committed to using the Smarter Balanced 11th grade test for course placement in 2015, according to consortium spokeswoman Jacqueline King.

It's interesting that both systems have made those commitments even before Smarter Balanced has established its college-ready cut score (or cut scores for the other three levels of its test, either). That thorny process has begun, and member states' higher-education officials are taking part in it.

All four branches of California's higher-education system pledged support to Smarter Balanced in August, but have not yet made a commitment to accept its 11th grade test scores in course-placement decisions.

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