Idaho Department of Education Chief of Staff Lucy Willits recently announced that the department is rebranding Idaho’s newly adopted standardized test — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) — to the name of Idaho’s previous assessment, the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) 2.0.
I was puzzled over this decision as the state department has waged a public information campaign touting the positive benefits of the new SBAC distinguishing it using such language as a “next generation” assessment that will help “students thrive in a knowledge-driven economy.”
So you can understand my total befuddlement when Ms. Willits made the announcement that the state is backing away from using the true name of the exam, SBAC, in favor of the previous assessment, the ISAT.
See, the state has beat up the old locally made ISAT a little bit during the transition to the new test. They’ve pointed out the benefits of the SBAC over the ISAT such as the fact that the SBAC is not limited to multiple choice bubble questions like the old ISAT dinosaur; instead it also includes a dynamic writing component in which students will have to articulate answers in coherent sentences, paragraph, and even essays.
So it strikes me as particularly odd that after touting the SBAC’s advantages over the ISAT for the past few years that the state wants to return to calling the “newer-better” assessment the ISAT. If the state wanted to give it a new name, wouldn’t it had been much more logical to do so from the get-go to avoid public confusion of renaming an assessment after using the prior name for years?
Not only is the rebranding strange, in my opinion it is also misleading to parents, students and other stakeholders. For example, the ISAT evaluated student knowledge of the old locally written Idaho Content Standards, not the new Idaho Core Standards adopted directly word-for-word from the national Common Core State Standards. By calling the new assessment the ISAT 2.0, parents might be led to believe that the state has returned to the previous state content standards, which simply is not true.
In addition, by renaming the SBAC the ISAT, it may also imply that Idaho is no longer using the SBAC as it implies that Idaho has returned to the previous assessment designed for specific use here in the state to assess locally made Idaho State Content Standards, which also is simply not accurate.
Remember, both the prior Idaho State Achievement Test as well as the Idaho Content Standards were made here locally in Idaho. The Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are both national programs that are adopted by the state.
For better or worse, the Department of Education has faced criticism for its push in adopting both of these national programs here in Idaho. In my opinion, this criticism has started a useful dialogue in identifying potential problems and issues.
This, in turn, is a useful step in then identifying possible solutions to these problems; if citizens believe that Idaho has returned to the old locally made assessment and standards, then this beneficial dialogue might be stunted or halted altogether. That outcome certainly wouldn’t benefit students, teachers or parents as these solutions would never become developed.
Educators, like myself, are already struggling to communicate accurate information about the new assessment during this transition. Changing the name this late into the process only adds on an additional barrier under a myriad of confusion and misinformation surrounding the exam. In addition, it may imply that the state is reversing course back to the previous standards and assessments before Common Core and SBAC, which is inaccurate.
Simply put, the SBAC is not the ISAT. It’s not useful to imply that they are equivalent in an atmosphere in which excessive confusion and misinformation already exists regarding the transition from one exam to another.
Let the State Department of Education know that sometimes when it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, well …
It might just be the SBAC, not the ISAT. Let’s make sure we call it what it is.
Levi B. Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell.