Category Archives: Wisconsin

History of the SBAC and How it Rose to a Nationwide Movement

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) was created in 2010 with the aim of producing a universal assessment system to help students be well prepared for college and careers. The creation of the tests aimed to produce a vigorous assessment of the new, challenging common core state standards (CCSS) and help educators and school districts align teaching to these new standards. The SBAC originally consisted of a consortium of 30 states that submitted a proposal for a $178m federal grant to develop a new, groundbreaking series of tests for students. In 2014 the federal grant came to an end and the SBAC was transferred to UCLA and became a public agency.


The SBAC is funded by the memberships of the 16 states, that currently offer the tests, and all tests have been available for students to take since April 2015. Testing costs around $28 per student for the full package of resources and although it can cost states a significant amount of money to introduce, the resources that are included can actually end up saving money and time for educators. Around 220 colleges nationwide accept the high school summative SBAC tests as evidence for college readiness for credit level courses.


The progressive tests were created using a dynamic process of field-testing and in Spring 2014, 4.2 million students took the first field tests which facilitated the evaluation of over 19,000 assessment items. This allowed for the first set of achievement standards to be set, which were a starting point for discussion about achievement standards across the states that took part and as a baseline measure for the future.


The SBAC is designed to be a valid and reliable approach to student assessment, providing actionable data to provide interventions to help students succeed. For states offering the tests, the SBAC provides three components developed by nearly 5000 teachers nationwide:


  • Formative and practice assessments with a digital library of resources for students and educators.
  • Interim assessments
  • Summative assessments towards college and career readiness in English, Language Arts and Math


The SBAC summative tests are available for students in grade 3-8th and high school and are all administered via an interactive online platform. The tests take between 2.5 – 4 hours for each component and are either marked digitally or by qualified professional scorers. The marks for each assessment are available in 2-3 weeks for parents, educators and students. Each student receives a result of 1,2,3 or 4 on each test with 1 representing a student who is minimally qualified and 4 a student who is thoroughly qualified.


The movement towards rigorous and valid assessment helps both states and the nation ensure that students are leaving high school with a diploma that prepares them for adult life. The SBAC provides a way to ensure that every student succeeds and every school district is accountable for that because of the tests.


Is Wisconsin confused on Common Core?

As an early adopter back in 2010, Wisconsin has proven to be one of the more volatile states dealing with Common Core. First a proponent then an opponent and now dedicated to it, it’s no wonder that the general populous is confused as to the state’s stance on the standards.


Governor Flip Flopping

The biggest trouble has been with Governor Scott Walker’s indecision. Claiming many times to be against the Core, many remain confused to his proclamation that he “effectively repealed” them in 2015 even though all statewide tests have been aligned to them. In truth, the schools have held on to these standards even though they are not forced by law to do so. However, the story gets a bit more interesting from there.

While schools don’t have to choose the Core, the new state exam was to be Smarter Balanced, a general exam aligned to Core standards. Therefore choosing any other standard set would only serve to ruin test scores and paint teachers in a bad light. So the Core remained. Then, Walker helped eliminate Smarter Balanced in favor of a shorter, cheaper option known as the Badger Exam. Even though it’s cheaper, it still remains aligned with Common Core, causing frustration among the educators of Wisconsin. They are disappointed that they can’t use this test to truly assess student progress with other states because while the Badger Exam might lead to higher test scores in the state, the results won’t accurately portray student learning on a national level.


Better Scores

All in all, 2015’s Badger Exam scores have shown interesting results with an average 51.2% proficiency in English and 43.7% proficiency in math. Like other states, the teachers were quick to warn parents and politicians not to take these scores too seriously as they are only the first results for a brand new exam. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t where the problem ends.

Highly criticized for a myriad of reasons, the released data has been anything be predictable. Some schools did incredibly well while others had low scores even though the students that tested were strong performers in advanced classes. Luckily, last year was the only year the Badger Exam would be used. Now unfunded, the state will once again take on a new statewide exam, the Wisconsin Forward Exam, it’s third assessment in three years.


As Wisconsin moves forward, its rift can only be understood as the result of a confused leadership. In the majority of states, officials have taken a firm stance, be it for or against the Core and its related tests. Wisconsin, however, is floating in a confused miasma of indecision that has resulted in wasted educational funds, wasted time and a frustrated educational system. As the teachers do what they can to navigate the governor’s inability to choose a side, it’s the children that are confused, adapting quickly and constantly to statewide tests.