Achievement Level Descriptors

Achievement Level Descriptors and College Content-Readiness

Achievement level descriptors (ALDs) articulate the knowledge, skills, and processes expected of students at different levels of performance on the Smarter Balanced assessments. Smarter Balanced is developing an integrated suite of ALDs aligned with the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced assessment claims in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.


Draft initial ALDs were developed in October 2012 by K-12 teachers and administrators and higher education faculty from two- and four-year colleges and universities representing Smarter Balanced Governing States. The ALDs are linked to an operational definition of college content-readiness, as well as a policy framework to guide score interpretation for high schools and colleges.

Following their initial development, both the ALDs and the definition of college content-readiness were revised based on a series of reviews from member states, partners, and individual stakeholders. The ALDs were approved by Governing State vote on March 20, 2013. The college content-readiness policy was approved by Governing State vote on April 22, 2013. Final documents were released on April 29, 2013.


Role of ALDs and College Content-Readiness Policy

ALDs describe performance on a standardized test in terms of levels or categories of performance.

The most commonly understood use of ALDs is to communicate the meaning of test scores to teachers, parents, and students. Smarter Balanced is developing a system of ALDs that serve different purposes for item writing, standard-setting, and reporting results. Governing States adopted the initial ALDs in March 2013. ALDs may be revised as needed based on results from the Field Test of the assessment system in early 2014.

The draft initial ALDs and college content-readiness policy framework are part of a critical effort to ensure that the grade 11 summative assessment can be used as evidence that students are ready for entry-level, transferable, credit-bearing courses in English and mathematics and should be exempted from remedial coursework.

Smarter Balanced recognizes that college readiness encompasses a wide array of additional knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will not all be measured by the assessment system. The draft college content-readiness definition is focused on the core areas of ELA/literacy and mathematics described by the Common Core State Standards.

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