NC Must Get Out Of The Common Core’s SBAC

I’ve written in the past about the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and its ramifications for keeping North Carolina tied to Common Core even with two bills in our General Assembly attempting to get us out of the standards.  For those who have not dug into the SBAC, I encourage you to do so. Start with the Cooperative Agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.

The Cooperative Agreement in a nutshell is the U.S. Dept. of Education getting around the law barring them from creating national tests and curriculum by farming it out to a private company. It was paid for with your tax dollars via the Obama administration’s Stimulus package, of which a portion of was funneled into the Race To The Top Grants. The purpose statement from the Cooperative Agreement:

The purpose of this agreement is to support the consortium recipient in developing new, common assessment systems that are valid, reliable and fair for their intended purposes and for all student subgroups, and that measure student knowledge and skills against a common set of college- and career-ready standards in mathematics and English language arts. In light of the technical nature of this grant and the fact that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will likely be reauthorized during the course of this project, the Department will provide necessary flexibility to respond to changing circumstances, technology, and laws by working collaboratively with the recipient through this agreement. The objective is to assist the consortium in fulfilling, at minimum, the goals articulated in the consortium’s approved Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA) application, requirements established in the RTTA Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for New Awards for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 that was published in the Federal Register on April 9, 2010, and any subsequent additions detailed through this agreement.

The price tag was large:

The estimated cost for the work to be performed under this Agreement is $159,976,843 and $15,872,696 for the supplemental award.

This article will hit some of the bigger reasons why North Carolina needs to get out of the SBAC. However, before going forward, it is worth noting that the SBAC tests were a confirmed “glitch” fiasco and the tests themselves, like PARCC’s, were shrouded in secrecy. Teachers have told me they were not allowed to see the pilot test beforehand in NC nor were they allowed to talk about specifics afterward.

First, be aware that the SBAC will not make it easy for NC to leave. The “state-led” Common Core SBAC could require NC to get permission from the majority of the other governing states in the consortium, we have to give notice in writing and the cherry on top — we have to get Federal approval. What the other states do impacts North Carolina. What other states do, or if they withdraw, has cost implications as well.

Second, a move by legislators cannot get NC out of the SBAC. Instead, the folks who got usAtkinsonPresElect into this vipers nest have to do it: The State Superintendent, The Governor and the NC State School Board. Those of us in NC following the Common Core battle know Superintendent Atkinson’s loyalties lie with Common Core and the CCSS), of which she is currently President Elect. She can’t be counted on to do the right thing. Governor Perdue is gone; we’ve had turn over at the NC State School Board too. Will the new Governor and State School Board members step up and do the right thing? Time will tell.

Third, the SBAC is more than just a national Common Core test. The projected supplemental budget from 2011 for SBAC includes:

  1. Development of curriculum
  2. Formative Processes and Tools/Professional Development
  3. Implementation of Common Core Systems
  4. “Communications” (Essentially branding; pushing the narratives)
  5. Aligning Assessments to Readiness
  6. Support for Technology Transitions
  7. Technical Assistance Meetings
  8. PMP Management

All of the above are also outlined in the section of the Cooperative Agreement under “Conditions for the Supplemental Award”.

Fourth, additional funding specifically for the SBAC’s work was also given by the Gates Foundation to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) just last year. It should be clear now why our Superintendent, June Atkinson, will not be helpful in getting NC out of the SBAC – Money and data. The same rationale applies for why the NC Chamber likes keeping the consortia in the bills currently at the General Assembly. The specific grant information is as follows:

Date: July 2013 
Purpose: to support the development of high quality assessments to measure the Common Core State Standards
Amount: $4,000,000 
Term: 30 
Topic: College-Ready 
Regions Served: GLOBAL|NORTH AMERICA 
Program: United States 
Grantee Location: Washington, District of Columbia 
Grantee Website: http://www.ccsso.org 

The total amount given to the CCSSO from Gates for the development of assessments and data collection activities was $31.9 million.

Fifth, it is worth questioning if cutting the purse strings of funds from North Carolina alone will kill the SBAC in our state. The General Assembly cut off state funding for the tests already and both bills keep that in place, however, the test pilot of the SBAC still went forward in our state using Race To The Top (RTTT) funds.  The Department of Public Instruction said the tests ‘were not given in very many schools’. I’d like to know DPI’s definition of ‘not very many’. See if your child’s school participated by checking this list of the schools where it was given.

There are still RTTT funds remaining and the Department of Public Instruction has obtained a 5 year no-fee extension for NC to spend that money. Some of it is already set for specific projects. Legislators should be asking if any of the remaining funds are slated for the SBAC tests, which are required to be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

Sixth, there is coercion going on with the SBAC in other states. It would follow that same coercion might exist in North Carolina. This is a question unasked to date in NC. An example of such coercion is what happened in Idaho:

I also have to inform you that many Idaho teachers are not coming forth with their real and valid opinions of Common Core and the SBAC tests because they are afraid that voicing their opinion will negatively affect their school. The Idaho State Department of Education has recently set a rating system for schools based on stars. A top rated school is rated as a 5 Star School, and these schools receive the most “bonus” money at the end of the year. As the star ratings go down, so does the money. All schools in Idaho were told that they had to have at least 95% of all their students participate in the SBAC tests this year, or their star rating would be dropped by 2 stars. Because of the fear of losing money, many teachers have been told not to say anything about Common Core or SBAC testing in fear that parents would revolt, withholding their kids from testing. 

Read the entire letter that goes with the excerpt above. The section about the over 5 hours of continual testing for elementary students is outrageous.

Related Reading:

* This article has been updated.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a freelance journalist and is currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_
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