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Washington State Decides on Smarter Balanced Graduation Score

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz. Cross-posted from High School & Beyond.

Washington state decided Wednesday that its graduating seniors do not have to reach the "college readiness" cut score on the Smarter Balanced test in order to earn their diplomas.

The state board of education voted to set the cutoff scores in the top third of level 2 on the four-level Smarter Balanced test, the Seattle Times reported. To be considered ready for credit-bearing college work, students should score at levels 3 or 4.

Here are the score ranges that the Smarter Balanced consortium set to define the four achievement levels. The Washington state board chose a graduation score of 2548 for English/language arts, and 2595 for math.

SBAC.JPGIn last spring's first operational administration of the test, 50.8 percent of the state's 11th graders scored at level 3 or 4 on the English/language arts portion of the test. Who knows how that number might have been different if a big chunk of that class hadn't skipped the test.

The new score expectations in English/language arts will take effect with the graduating class of 2017, and the scores in math will apply to the class of 2019. Until then, students' diplomas will depend on passing the state's reading and writing high school proficiency exam, and its end-of-course tests in math.

The state board views the new cut score expectations as transitional, while students and teachers adjust to the Common Core State Standards. In their meeting materials, board members said it wasn't fair to hold students accountable for college readiness upon graduation when the K-16 system hadn't fully aligned itself to the new standards.

"The state's graduation requirements should ultimately be aligned to the performance levels associated with career and college readiness. During implementation of these standards, the board recognizes the necessity of a minimum proficiency standard for graduation that reflects a standard approaching full mastery, as both students and educators adapt to the increased rigor of common core and the underlying standard of career and college- readiness for all students."

Washington is one of the few states that are making graduation contingent on passing the Smarter Balanced or PARCC exams, although many states' policies on exit exams are currently in flux. No state has yet decided to require students to score at the college-readiness level in order to graduate.

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