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Smarter Balanced Field-Test Data Show Large Score Gaps Among Students With IEPs

Most students with individualized education programs scored in the lowest achievement level on the field tests administered last spring by the Smarter Balanced Achievement Consortium, according to data released by the test-development organization.

The range of students with IEPs scoring at level 1, the lowest of four levels on the test, ranged from 61 percent in 4th grade math to 77 percent in 7th grade English/language arts. In comparison, 27 percent of all students scored at the lowest level in 4th grade math, and 34 percent of all students scored at the lowest level in 7th grade English/language arts.

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Students with disabilities performed best in 3rd grade math, where 18 percent scored at level 3 or above, indicating they are proficient in the skills and knowledge for their grade. For all students, 39 percent were able to clear that bar.  

The report results were first published on the website of the Advocacy Institute, a nonprofit organization that closely tracks educational issues related to children with disabilities. They were released by Smarter Balanced on Dec. 22. The tests will be fully implemented by 2014-15.

The demographic data was drawn from 400,000 test results from the more than 4 million students who participated in Smarter Balanced field testing. Because this data comes from test scores from all states, the results from the field tests are not valid at the state level.  

Smarter Balanced, which has 21 member states, noted that the trend of its scores mirrored that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as "the nation's report card." The NAEP is administered to representative samples of students in each state and students with IEPs also score significantly below all students on that test. However, with the Smarter Balanced tests, the degree of difference between students with IEPs and all students tended to be smaller than on the NAEP.

Magda Chia, the director of support for under-represented students for SBAC, said that the ultimate goal is to close the achievement gaps between students with disabilities and their typically developing peers, but she was heartened that, in comparison to the NAEP, the gaps were not larger. The common-core tests are still new, and require students to demonstrate analytical and problem solving skills in a way they might not have had to on previous tests, she said. "In general, you'll see the standards are obviously more challenging," Chia said.

In November, Smarter Balanced released a report that compiled "lessons learned" from the field tests, including the use of accommodations. Also that month, the organization released cutoff scores for the various achievement levels. Based on the field test results, the consortium estimates that fewer than half of all students will be able to demonstrate proficiency by scoring at level 3 or above when the test is first administered, though test officials expect those scores to rise over time.

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