Achievement Level Descriptors

Achievement Levels

About Achievement Level Setting

Achievement level setting, also known as standard setting, is the process for establishing one or more cut scores on an assessment, making it possible to create categories of performance. In April, Smarter Balanced Governing States approved a three-phase design for achievement level setting:


  1. An Online Panel (scheduled for October 6–17) allowed thousands of K-12 educators, higher education faculty, parents, and other interested parties to participate virtually in recommending achievement levels.
  2. An In-Person Panel (October 13–19) with educators and other stakeholders working in grade-level teams deliberated and make recommendations for the thresholds of the four achievement levels.
  3. The Vertical Articulation Committee, a subset of the In-Person Panel, examined recommendations across all grades to consider the reasonableness of the system of cut scores.

Governing States will meet this fall to review and endorse achievement level recommendations.

States nominated participants for the In-Person Panel this spring. K-12 educators, higher education faculty, and other interested stakeholders signed up to participate in the Online Panel during an open registration period from April 22 to September 26.

The panel, scheduled for October 6–17, allowed thousands of K-12 educators, higher education faculty, parents, and other interested parties from Smarter Balanced member states to participate virtually in achievement level setting. Panelists recommended achievement level score that determined how much students should know or be able to do in order to be considered proficient at the grade-level standards.

The Online Panel activity took up to three hours to complete. Panelists participated at any time during the two-day window they selected, in one sitting or in multiple sittings. Participants received online training and then offered input on achievement levels by reviewing actual test items for the grade and subject area they selected, ordered by difficulty. Participants were able to refer to the Smarter Balanced Achievement Level Descriptors and Common Core State Standards prior to and while participating in the panel.


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.The ALDs were developed 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.


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