Nevada Escapes Federal Penalty After 2015 Smarter Balanced Testing Glitches

Associate Editor

By Guest Blogger Andrew Ujifusa

Cross posted from the Politics K-12 blog

The U.S. Department of Education will not penalize Nevada for failing to meet federal test-participation requirements, according to the Associated Press, after technical problems plagued the state’s administration of the Smarter Balanced test in the 2014-15 school year.

The state requested a waiver from the federal requirement in January. Failure to meet the testing requirement can lead to funding penalties for states.

In the Education Department’s March 11 letter to Nevada granting a waiver for testing requirements, Ann Whalen, who is delegated the duties of assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, noted Nevada officials’ concerns about the validity of Smarter Balanced scores from the spring that “resulted in many students’ inability to access tests online or, in some cases, complete the tests once accessed.” But Whalen also noted that the waiver only covers the 2014-15 school year. 

“Nevada continues to have an affirmative responsibility to ensure that all students in grades three through eight and once in high school are assessed annually in reading/language arts and mathematics as required in the ESEA,” she wrote. 

Nevada’s problems with the Smarter Balanced tests were relatively severe—on April 15 of last year, for example, the state had to halt the exam altogether.

“We’re pleased with this result. We think it’s fair,” Steve Canavero, Nevada’s superintendent, told the AP.

Late last year, the federal department sent 13 states letters indicating that districts, subgroups of students, or students statewide had not tested 95 percent of students. A few of those states had relatively high-profile parental opt-out movements, including Colorado and New York. However, Nevada was not one of the states that received such a letter.

Canavero, who was previously the state’s deputy superintendent, spoke to Education Week for our story last year about the Smarter Balanced problems in Nevada. The state education department placed the blame at the doorstep of the state’s testing vendor, Measured Progress. Measured Progress, in turn, said they did not receive some coding on time from the American Institutes for Research, another Smarter Balanced vendor.

Montana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin were three other states to experience problems administering Smarter Balanced last year. (Unlike Nevada, Wisconsin was one of the 13 states to get letters from the federal department last year about low test-participation rates.)

An analysis from Measured Progress published last summer found that just 37 percent of Nevada students completed Smarter Balanced tests, while 76 percent of Montana and 88 percent of North Dakota students did so.

The 2014-15 school year was the first time most states administered tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Smarter Balanced was one of two federally funded consortia that developed common-core-aligned exams, along with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Read the Education Department’s letter to Nevada below:

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