After students take the Smarter Balanced assessments, their results are reported in two primary ways: Scale Scores and Achievement Levels. A Scale Score is the number that a student scored on the test, and Achievement Levels are broader proficiency categories students fall into based on their Scale Scores. On this page, you can learn more about scores, as well as how Achievement Levels were determined and how they are used by educators and parents.
Scale Scores are the basic units of reporting. These scores fall on a continuous scale (from approximately 2000 to 3000) that increases across grade levels. Scale Scores can be used to illustrate students’ current level of achievement and their growth over time. When combined together across a student population, Scale Scores can also describe school- and district-level changes in performance, as well as reveal gaps in achievement among different groups of students.
Based on their Scale Scores, students fall into one of four categories of performance called Achievement Levels. These categories are defined by Achievement Level Descriptors, the specifications for what knowledge and skills students display at each level (i.e., Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4). We refer to these categories as Levels, but each Smarter Balanced member state refers to them in different ways, such as “novice, developing, proficient, and advanced.” Students performing at Levels 3 and 4 are considered on track to demonstrating the knowledge and skills necessary for college and career readiness. Detailed Achievement Level Descriptors were written by teachers and college faculty.
- ELA/literacy ALDs and College Content-Readiness Policy (PDF)
- Mathematics ALDs and College Content-Readiness Policy (PDF)
- Achievement Level Descriptors Glossary of Terms (PDF)
How were Achievement Levels determined?
Through a series of online and in-person activities, educators, parents, and community leaders helped ensure the assessments are based on fair and rigorous expectations for students. The process consisted of three phases:
- An Online Panel allowed thousands of K-12 educators, higher education faculty, parents, and other interested parties to participate virtually in recommending achievement levels.
- An In-Person Panel with educators and other stakeholders working in grade-level teams deliberated and made recommendations for the threshold scores of the four achievement levels.
- The Cross-Grade Review Committee, a subset of the In-Person Panel, examined recommendations across all grades to consider the reasonableness of the system of cut scores.
About Achievement Level Setting
All Smarter Balanced members were actively involved in setting these new achievement levels. Teachers, parents, higher education faculty, business leaders, and other community members from all of the Smarter Balanced states took part in a highly inclusive, consensus-based process that asked participants to closely examine assessment content and detailed Achievement Level Descriptors to determine threshold scores for each achievement level. Educators who work with English language learners and students with disabilities also were included to help ensure that the achievement levels are fair and appropriate for all students. In addition to the nearly 500 in-person panelists, more than 2,500 people volunteered their time to participate in the online panel.
- Achievement Level Setting Overview (PDF)
- Interpretation and Use of Scores and Achievement Levels (PDF)
- Achievement Level Setting: Establishing a new baseline for college and career readiness standards (YouTube)
- Statements of Support (PDF)Auditors’ Report (PDF)
- Disaggregated Field Test Data (PDF) (DocX)
- Achievement Level Setting Q&A (PDF)
Approximations of Performance
Although Achievement Level Descriptors are intended to aid interpretation of the four categories, they are less precise than Scale Scores for describing student growth or changes in achievement gaps among groups of students since they do not reveal changes of student scores within the four levels. Thus, Achievement Levels should be understood as representing approximations of levels at which students demonstrate mastery of a set of concepts and skills.
Not the Only Measure
There are other measures that students, teachers, and parents can also use to help evaluate academic progress.Achievement Levels are a reporting feature that is federally required under the No Child Left Behind Act, and one that has become familiar to many educators. However, characterizing a student’s achievement solely in terms of falling in one of four categories is an oversimplification. Achievement levels should serve only as a starting point for discussion about the performance of students and of groups of students. There are other measures that students, teachers, and parents can also use to help evaluate the academic progress of students and schools, such as scale scores, growth models, and portfolios of student work.
In other words, achievement levels should not be interpreted as infallible predictors of students’ futures. They must be continuously validated and should be used only in the context of the multiple sources of information that educators have about students and schools.
Achievement Level Descriptors are connected to the expectations high schools and colleges have for what students should know to be ready for college. In particular, a score at or above “Level 3” in grade 11 is meant to suggest conditional evidence that a student is ready for entry-level, transferable, credit-bearing college courses. Students may have to complete additional requirements in Grade 12. Explore the list of colleges that accept Smarter Balanced scores and read their policies for score use.