Honesty is the Best Policy: Early Smarter Balanced Results Provide Insight into How States Compare

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

October 1, 2015

By Marianne Lombardo

The Honesty Gap – when you’re given information that paints a rosier picture than what is the actual case – might be humorous if we’re talking about Match.com, but it isn’t when we’re talking about our children’s education.

The Obama administration has fought hard, against extensive criticism, to address the discrepancies between what states have been calling proficient and what students need to know and be able to do in order to enter college or a career successfully. This discrepancy is devastating for the 60 percent of students who are deemed not ready for college, frustrates the 30 percent of high school graduates who enter a job market where 40 percent of employers rate new entrants with a high school diploma as “deficient” in their workforce preparation, and even disastrous for our nation’s security as a whole: Nearly one-fourth of all high school graduates don’t get the minimum score needed to join any branch of the military.

To correct the Honesty Gap in education, and to assure that all students in all states are equitably prepared for the college or career of their choice, the Obama administration has encouraged the statewide development of more rigorous standards and assessments. The Common Core standards, for example, established by a consortium of state education leaders, set expectations for what all students should know in English, language arts and math at each grade level. In turn, regional networks created assessments known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) to evaluate if students are meeting the Common Core expectations, as well as important skills like critical thinking and problem solving.

2015 marked the first year that SBAC and PARCC results can be compared across states.

Below is a look at the results from 10 of the 17 states and one territory that administered the Smarter Balanced assessments in 2015. These ten states have made data available, but in some cases results are preliminary and data may change when results are finalized.

  • On each graph, each band shows the percent proficient or above for each grade
  • Results are organized by highest to lowest total percent proficient or above across all grade levels

SBAC English



  • Overall, about 51 percent of students across all grade levels within these states are proficient or better in English, language arts.
  • Connecticut had the highest total results in English, language arts; California had the lowest.
  • Missouri provided a one-time administration of the ACT to all 11th grade students in Spring 2015 and did not test 11th graders on the SBAC (if they had, they likely would have been #1).
  • Missouri outperforms other states in the early tested grades (3rd and 4th grades).
  • Washington had a 50% opt-out rate for 11th grade tests (if all students had tested, they would likely also have been contenders for the #1 spot).





  • Overall, about 39 percent of students across all grade levels within these ten states are proficient or better in math.
  • Washington – even with 50 percent of 11th grade students opting-out – had the highest total results; West Virginia had the lowest.
  • Missouri did not test 11th graders.
  • West Virginia students lose ground each successive year. 


  • All States scored higher in English, language arts than in math.
  • Vermont & Oregon ranked high in both English, language arts and math.
  • California & West Virginia ranked low in both English, language arts and math.

It takes a great deal of political courage to tell people things they don’t want to hear. For a lot of states, SBAC results were around thirty percentage points lower than what had been reported to parents and the public as the percentage of proficient students in previous years (for example, see comparisons to previous year test scores for Connecticut and California).

As more states release SBAC and PARCC results, particularly results that are disaggregated by race, income, special needs, and so on, we’ll be diving into that data to illuminate more patterns and insights for subsequent posts.

The important work will be to strip away the politics and finger-pointing, and use this information in ways that states can learn and share with each other, and collectively work toward a common goal of preparing all our nation’s students for a bright future.


CT: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/pressroom/2015_smarter_balanced_briefing_document.pdf

CA: http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr15/yr15rel69.asp#tab2

DE: http://news.delaware.gov/2015/09/02/delaware-releases-results-for-2015-state-assessments/

VT: http://education.vermont.gov/documents/edu-sbac-press-release-2015-results.pdf

WV: http://wvmetronews.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Smarter-Balanced_results.pdf?17faa1

MO: https://dese.mo.gov/communications/news-releases/missouri-students-exceed-expectations-2015-map-assessments

WA: http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/summary.aspx?groupLevel=District&schoolId=1&reportLevel=State&year=2014-15

OR: http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=1302

ID: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2015%20ISAT%20SBAC%20Projected%20vs%20Actual%20Preliminary%20Performance%20at%20Level%20-%207.1.2015.xlsx

HI: http://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/TeachingAndLearning/Testing/StateAssessment/Pages/home.aspx