Audits in the News: November

Audits in the News: Smarter Balanced audit renews media interest in education test

We here in the audits division are proud that the work we do makes a difference. Our work attracts the attention of the legislature, statewide news sources, and even local media outlets. Local media coverage of our audits is just another way we communicate with the people of Oregon about the work that we’re doing on their behalf to make government better. This is part of an ongoing series of posts rounding up recent instances in which the Oregon Audits Division makes a cameo in the local news.

The Audits Division recently released an audit in response to House Bill 2713, passed during the 2015 legislative session. The audit looked at the impacts of the Smarter Balanced assessment and identified some possible ways to improve upon the test.

You can read the entire audit online here.

Statesman Journal – Concerns about Smarter Balanced continue in new audit

Read the story here.

“State auditors said Smarter Balanced student assessments are confusing and unpopular, according to a new audit report. Though these concerns have come up in the past, the audit team now suggests a handful of things to improve the current system.”

The Portland Tribune – Audit: Oregon needs to get more out of expensive Smarter Balanced tests

Read the story here.

“Statewide school tests through the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are nearly twice as expensive as the old tests, confusing to educators and time-consuming. That’s according to a new audit from the Oregon Secretary of State released today. The office of Jeanne Atkins conducted the audit in accordance with a bill passed by the 2015 legislature and sponsored by Portland-area Representatives Lew Frederick and Shemia Fagan.”

OPB – Oregon Audit: Smarter Balanced Exams Take Up Scarce Time, Resources

Read and listen to the story here.

“An Oregon audit of the state’s Smarter Balanced standardized exams found that the tests aren’t well understood, and that they take up scarce time and resources in schools. The legislature called for the audit of the Smarter Balanced exam – as teachers raised questions and many parents withdrew their kids from taking it. Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said state officials value the exams, often more than teachers and parents do.”

East Oregonian – Our view: State audits Smarter Balanced (Editorial)

Read the story here.

“The Oregon Department of Education should do more to address the concerns of educators and parents about Smarter Balanced testing and Common Core state standards. At least that’s what the Oregon Secretary of State argued Wednesday in releasing the results of a mandated state audit.

Jeanne Atkins reported there were problems with the test rollout and results, and ODE has not done a good enough job communicating the need for the test. And, Atkins said, it needs to better administer Smarter Balanced and address legitimate concerns about standardized testing in general.”

Audits in the News Featured

Oregon Department of Education: Clearer Communication, Consistent Use of Results and an Ongoing Commitment to Improvement Could Help Address Testing Concerns

Executive Summary

Our audit responds to House Bill 2713 (2015), developed with input from the State Auditor. It called for a Secretary of State audit to review the impacts of the statewide summative assessment on Oregon’s public schools, and make recommendations for improvement.

Through a series of surveys, site visits and interviews, we learned many schools faced challenges in the first year of administering the new Smarter Balanced test, including adjusting to the demands on staff and school resources. Some reported fewer challenges in the second year.

Some educators are concerned that certain student populations may experience more negative impacts than others. Some also told us that a more comprehensive assessment system would be useful.

Read full report here.

Oregon introduced Smarter Balanced in 2015

The Smarter Balanced assessment is a new test introduced by the Oregon Department of Education to all public schools in the spring of 2015. Smarter Balanced tests 3rd – 8th graders and 11th graders in math and English language arts near the end of the school year. The test assesses students’ progress toward meeting Oregon’s college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards. Smarter Balanced requires more time and depth of knowledge than the previous test.

There is not clear agreement on the test’s purpose

The Smarter Balanced test is intended to provide a measure for accountability, data to identify achievement gaps, and information about whether students meet standards overall, and many value these purposes. We also heard from educators who feel the test should be more useful in the classroom. However, other tools may be better suited for that purpose. The Oregon Department of Education could take a more active role in communicating about the test’s purpose.

The results of the test are not used consistently

Schools, school districts and the state use Smarter Balanced test results inconsistently, and sometimes not at all. Educators told us that it would be easier to use results if they received them sooner. Many reported that additional guidance on how to use results would be helpful. Some also reported that a more comprehensive assessment system would be useful.

Many reported test administration challenges

Educators described schoolwide challenges in the first year of administering Smarter Balanced. Testing did not just affect the classrooms that were actively testing, but could also place additional staffing and resource demands on the entire school. However, some said there were fewer challenges in the second year.

Testing took away from other duties of school and school district personnel. Some schools hired additional staff or substitutes specifically for testing. Testing also tied up computer labs for months at some schools. Time spent taking and preparing for the test took away from instruction time.

Some student populations may experience more negative impacts than others

Standardized testing may affect certain student groups more than others. Despite having accommodations, we heard concerns that the test’s greater use of technology and language may increase the risk that some students will not be able to demonstrate their abilities accurately. Students who take longer to complete the assessment may miss more instruction time.

Students in special education, English Language Learners, and students with less exposure to technology and typing may be particularly affected.


We recommend that the Oregon Department of Education improve communication, foster consistent use of results and continue its commitment to improve test administration. Our specific recommendations can be found on page 18 of the report.

Agency Response

The full agency response can be found at the end of the report.

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