Office Hours

Colleges see opportunity in Smarter Balanced to improve student transitions

Posted on August 26, 2015

Postsecondary institutions see Smarter Balanced test scores as an opportunity to improve academic transitions from high school to college. Over 200 postsecondary institutions in seven states—including Washington’s community and technical colleges, public four-year universities, and nine of ten Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW)—have agreed to consider Smarter Balanced test scores when determining if newly enrolled students are ready for college-level courses. 

These agreements offer a key benefit to 11th graders: score a three or four on Smarter Balanced tests and skip remedial math and English courses at participating colleges. Based on their English Language Arts (ELA) scores this past year, many incoming high school juniors stand to benefit.

2015 test scores

Seventy-four percent of incoming high school juniors—last year’s sophomores—met the college-and-career-ready standard on the Smarter Balanced ELA test. This means almost three-quarters of next year’s high school graduates could skip ELA placement tests and remedial coursework, depending on where they go to college. 

However, almost 50 percent of incoming high school seniors refused to take the tests. Students who refused to take the test received a “0” score, so only 26 percent met the college-and-career-ready standard on the ELA test, and less than 14 percent met that standard on the math test.

Skipping remedial courses saves students time and money. 

It may not seem like a big deal, but skipping remedial courses saves time and money for a lot of students when they get to college. Remedial classes don’t count towards a degree, but students still have to pay for them. 

In 2013, over half of Washington’s recent high school graduates who enrolled in our state’s public institutions had to take at least one remedial class. By refusing to take the Smarter Balanced tests, almost 50 percent of incoming high school seniors missed out on an opportunity to save time and money in college, should they choose to enroll and complete a degree or certificate program. 

Scores signal readiness for dual credit or need for more support. 

For students who score at a college-and-career-ready level, dual-credit courses are a natural next step. Dual-credit courses allow students to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. 

The scores are also used to identify students who need more support before they graduate. OSPI has developed intensive 12th grade “Bridge to College” classes to get these students college-ready by the time they graduate. Bridge classes will be offered at 83 of Washington’s 295 school districts this coming year, and OSPI plans to have these classes available statewide by the 2016-17 school year.

Students who score a two on Smarter Balanced tests—and earn a “B” grade or better in their bridge classes—will be able to enroll in college-level courses at Washington’s public community and technical colleges. These students may still need to pass other placement tests to enroll in college-level coursework at Washington’s public four-year baccalaureate universities. Students who score a one on the Smarter Balanced tests will need additional, personalized support during their senior year of high school, and may still need to take pre-college (remedial) courses when they enroll in college.

Potential amidst controversy

There is much controversy about Smarter Balanced tests and the Common Core State Standards they assess. But with over 200 postsecondary institutions agreeing to use the tests as a measure of college readiness, high school students have an opportunity to save time and money further down the line. 

“The members of the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) are encouraged that so many postsecondary institutions have embraced this opportunity to improve student transitions,” says Executive Director Gene Sharratt. “Linking education sectors to support transitions is a core component of our mission, and we see the potential for long-term improvements in student access to postsecondary education and persistence to complete a degree.”



Remembering Dr. Elson Floyd

Posted on June 24, 2015

Washington State University President Elson Floyd was a champion for access and opportunity in higher education. Dr. Floyd was also a part of the Washington Student Achievement Council’s organizational history, serving as the Executive Director of the Higher Education Coordinating Board from 1993 to 1995.

His relentless belief that education was an essential investment in human potential stands as a model for all of us in Washington. He believed strongly that demographics were not a student’s destiny.  

Education was the great equalizer for Dr. Floyd, and he committed his life to ensuring all students were provided the opportunity achieve their potential in postsecondary education. He was a giant in the field of higher education in Washington. His influence was profound. His voice will be missed.

Visit the WSU tribute page and The Seattle Times to learn more about Dr. Floyd and his legacy.