ISDE: Why the Lost Love Over SBAC?

ISATRecently Idaho State Department of Education Chief of staff, Luci Willits, declared in an interview with Idaho Ed News that the state is rebranding the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) as the “ISAT 2.0.”

I have a problem with this name-change for a variety of reasons.  I sent a letter laying out my concern about the name change to Ms. Willits.  My letter, in full, is below.

Ms. Willits,

I am writing you in concern over the Department’s recent decision to rebrand the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s (SBAC’s) name to the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) 2.0.

I know that this decision wasn’t yours alone to make, but I think it is appropriate to send this message to you as you were the speaker making this announcement in a recent Idaho Ed News Article.

I am a special educator here in the state, and can attest from personal experience in my communications with parents, students, and other interested parties that it has already been exceedingly difficult to share accurate information regarding the assessment changes taking place during the transition from the Idaho Standards Achievement Test to the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium without adding on the new name change.

I feel that changing the name this late in the transition pinches teachers and administrators at both ends in communicating accurate information regarding the exam with students, parents, and other parties.

First, calling the exam ISAT 2.0 might leave the impression that Idaho has left the Consortium, which certainly is not the case. Consequently, it may also leave the impression that Idaho has abandoned the Idaho Core Standards because the ISAT was meant to assess proficiency of Idaho Content Standards, not the new Idaho Core Standards adopted from the Common Core State Standards.  In either instance, the new name may mislead the public on the true identity and purpose of the SBAC.

Second, calling the exam ISAT 2.0 may lead the public to believe that Idaho can independently change the exam according to our state’s own individual needs on a timeline set by the state as was the case with the original ISAT.  This is also not accurate as changes happen collectively between states through changes at the Consortium level, not the state level.

This may sound small, but I’ll give an example how this impacts me personally.  A frequent grumbling I hear from parents in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings is related to our state’s ability (or lack of ability) to set allowable accommodations during the assessment for special education students; these parents are sometimes concerned that the consortium has taken this power away from the state.

Thus, calling the exam ISAT 2.0 may lead the public to believe that the state can now make executive changes to the SBAC without needing permission from the consortium, such as assessment accommodations, which is not true.

On the flip-side, whether it is legitimate concern or not, there has been criticism of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium both here in the state and at the national level.  This dialogue is an important component in identifying possible problems and therefor developing solutions to these problems; by changing the name back to the previous assessment this dialogue may potentially be stunted as citizens may mistakenly believe that Idaho is no longer using the assessment.

Moreover the state’s message in adopting this new assessment is one of praise; repeatedly the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has been touted positively as being a “next-generation” assessment that will help “students thrive in an knowledge-driven global economy.”

It seems to me that rebranding the name as ISAT 2.0 after an information campaign touting the benefits of the new assessment may leave many citizens confused why the state has suddenly changed course to return to the old dinosaur of the ISAT; in other words, the positive information about the SBAC likely will not easily translate to accompany the ISAT 2.0 as the public may not know that that the ISAT 2.0 is actually the SBAC.  Conversely, citizens may re-assume negative baggage related to the old ISAT as they link the names together.

In other words my general concern is this: Educators, like myself, are already struggling to convey accurate information to parents, students, and other stakeholders under a myriad of confusion and misinformation regarding the SBAC; changing the name at so late a point on the transition timeline only adds on an additional barrier of confusion and potential misinformation.

Please spare us this additional barrier by returning to the previous, true name, of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  This exam is not the previous Idaho State Achievement Test, and in my opinion it only leads to greater confusion about the assessment during the transition by using the old name.

Instead, call it what it is: the SBAC.  Sometimes if it talks like a duck, walks like a duck, well…


~Levi Cavener


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