Smarter Balanced doubles as a college placement exam… maybe?

We’re in the midst of a giant opt-out movement across Eugene School District 4J’s four high schools. It’s a time when publicity for 4J is centered on the fact that students are purposefully chosing not to take the state-mandated, Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced test.

In light of all this attention given to not taking the tests, 4J announced this week that “Smarter Balanced tests waive Oregon college placement exams.”

From the website announcement, displayed on 4J’s home webpage:

The Oregon Department of Education and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission have announced that Oregon’s 7 universities and 17 community colleges, along with other institutes of higher education in California, Washington and three other states, will use Smarter Balanced scores in college course placement.

In adopting these agreements, Oregon’s higher education system leaders are signaling that the Smarter Balanced assessments can play an important role in indicating whether high school students have the mathematics, reading and writing skills needed for college success.

In total, nearly 200 colleges and universities so far have determined that students may waive placement testing if they score a 3 or higher on Smarter Balanced state tests and meet requirements for continued academic rigor during 12th grade. The agreements do not affect college admission, only first term placement in college level coursework, since eligible students will be exempt from taking the placement tests.

This is a significant development for Eugene students who plan to attend college on the West Coast, as many colleges in Oregon as well as Washington and California now will accept Smarter Balanced test scores in lieu of additional placement tests.  It means that students who complete the Smarter Balanced assessments and score a 3 or higher can save themselves both money and time in their college careers. Students who don’t meet standards on placement tests must take remedial courses at their own expense and without credit toward their college degrees.

 But will Oregon’s colleges and universities actually accept Smarter Balanced scores as equal to college placement exams? Looking at the Oregon Department of Education’s website, things are a little less certain: 

In support of our state’s implementation of high academic standards and corresponding assessments, Oregon community colleges and universities recently adopted preliminary statewide policies uniting Smarter Balanced test scores with placement in higher education. Now, the grade 11 Smarter Balanced assessment is a means for students to demonstrate their content readiness for entry-level college courses in mathematics and writing. 

For at least the next two years, Oregon’s 17 community colleges and 7 universities may choose to waive additional placement testing for entering students if they score a 3 or higher on Smarter Balanced tests and meet requirements for continued academic rigor during grade 12. Access The Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s (HECC) news announcement for more detailed information specific to Smarter Balanced placement policies in Oregon community colleges and universities.

ODE’s website says that “Oregon’s 17 community colleges and 7 universities may choose to waive additional placement testing for entering students” whereas 4J’s announcement says the colleges and universities “will use Smarter Balanced scores in college course placement.”

Jerry Rosiek, a UO professor of education, pointed this out in an email to EW adding that Smarter Balanced doesn’t count for advanced placement in college courses, like AP and IB courses, where high school students earn credits toward college. Many universities, including the UO, Rosiek points out, offer free placement exams, and universities also use the SAT or ACT to determine whether students need remedial coursework. Most colleges and universities require applicants to take the SAT or ACT.

“Since 70 percent of students are expected to fail the SBAC, it is unlikely to be that helpful to those wishing to test out of remedial courses in college,” Rosiek writes.

“In fact, if low scores are reported to a college, a student might be more likely to be placed in remedial course. Given all this, it is misleading to advertise that this policy means the SBAC provides added value to a college-bound student. Any student going to college will have multiple other means to place out of remedial courses, none of which will have 70 percent fail rates.”