Smarter Balanced Agreement FAQs

 [Note: This page reflect the best current understanding of responses to the questions raised below. It will be updated and extended as new questions emerge that need to be clarified.]

LATEST UPDATE: August 10, 2015

  1. What are the basic terms of the agreement for students interested in attending a community or technical college in Washington?
  • Students scoring level 4 can choose any entry-levelcollege course without additional placement testing (however if they wanted to start in a course not considered entry-level (e.g., calculus, English 102) they would need some additional placement process unless the college chose to extend the agreement to include those courses.
  • Students scoring at level 3 can access English Composition or Math &107 or Math &146 without additional conditions or placement processes. In math, if they want to start in pre-calculus, they would need to either show they’re succeeding in a calculus track course—pre-calculus, calculus, or any algebra-based course with Algebra 2 as a formal or informal prerequisite as a senior—or do some additional placement process.
  • Students scoring below college-ready (levels 2 and 1) would need to go through additional placement processes at the college, with the exception of students who score at level 2 and then succeed (B or better) in one of the specifically designated and coded Bridge to College courses that will be available in roughly 75 districts and 125 high schools in 2015-16, and potentially statewide by 2016-17. We’re finalizing the list of high schools offering the courses next year now and will publicize it as soon as it’s ready.
  • The agreement is provisional, effective through the graduating class of 2018; it will then be reviewed based on evaluation data collected to date and a decision will be made at that point about extending, adjusting, or discontinuing the agreement.
  • The full text of the formal agreement can be found on the Washington Core to College web site ( as well as the Washington Student Achievement Council college readiness web page:


  1. Does the same placement agreement apply to all of the community and technical colleges?

Yes, all 34 community and technical colleges are using Smarter Balanced scores for placement under a common agreement (the baccalaureates and independent colleges have separate, slightly different agreements).

  1. Based on the Smarter Balanced scores alone, can colleges offer students placement into additional college-level courses beyond what is defined in this agreement?

Yes, colleges may extend the opportunities for placement without requiring additional testing or transcript information. Anything not specifically defined in the language of the agreement is left up to individual colleges to determine.

  1. Does the system placement reciprocity agreement currently in place extend to placement arrangements based on the Smarter Balanced high school assessment scores if they go beyond the terms of the statewide agreement?


No. As defined in the placement reciprocity agreement, colleges would be bound by the broad terms of the system-wide Smarter Balanced policy agreement but not necessarily by placement arrangements colleges make that go beyond that agreement. Decisions to accept those additional arrangements would be left up to local colleges.

  1. Will Smarter Balanced scores from students from other states be honored?


Yes, level 3 and 4 Smarter Balanced scores will be honored regardless of where the student takes the assessment. The statewide level 2 agreement is dependent on students taking the Washington-specific transition courses being developed in math and English, so without that course no statewide level 2 agreement is available for out-of-state students.


  1. Are the scores from the Smarter Balanced high school assessment used as part of the admissions process at Washington baccalaureate institutions?

No. However, Washington baccalaureate institutions want to support the implementation of the Common Core and encourage students to achieve these higher standards, and agree in principle that the more information institutions have about student academic performance, the better. The decision about whether, and if so, how, to incorporate the scores into the admissions process will be reviewed by individual baccalaureate institutions as part of reassessing the recommendations during the winter 2018, based on the additional data to be available by that time.

  1. Will Smarter Balanced scores be used for placement into both English and math courses and any other courses that require those subjects as prerequisites?

No, the primary focus and intent of the policy was for placement into English 101 (composition) and specified entry-level math classes; offering placement into other courses would be at the discretion of local colleges.

  1. Can students choose any course in a course sequence up to the course/s offered as part of the agreement?


Yes, the placement agreement is an option offered to students, so students are free to choose a “lower” course in the course sequence than what is offered by the placement agreement.


  1. How does the agreement affect students in professional-technical pathways?

A student who places into college-level English or math would also have a professional-technical writing or math course placement honored.

  1. Are additional placement processes available to all students if they want a higher-level course than what is specified in the agreement?

Yes, if students would like a placement other than what’s offered by the Smarter Balanced score they can pursue whatever other options are offered by the college—transcript, placement test, etc.—and take the highest placement available to them.

  1. In the agreement what does the reference to “terminal” math courses mean?

“Terminal” was initially assumed to include any entry-level math course that could serve as the last or only math course the student would need to take to fulfill program or transfer requirements, with the exception of pre-calculus. For the statewide placement agreement, the only qualifying courses are Math& 107 (Math in Society) and Math& 146 (Statistics). Additional courses can be included at the discretion of local colleges.

  1. What’s considered “calculus pathway” in high school in order for students scoring at level 3 to qualify for placement into pre-calculus?

The intent of the agreement language was to ensure that students would be taking a rigorous level of math in the senior year; any algebra-based courses in the high school math course sequence (with Algebra 2 as a formal or informal prerequisite) would qualify as “calculus pathway.”

  1. What high school senior-year math courses can students scoring at level 2 take as seniors that will allow them to get the same automatic placement as students who scored at level 3—is it only the official Bridge to College Math transition course, or are other post-Algebra 2 courses acceptable?

For now, the statewide placement agreement requires that students scoring at level 2 complete the official Bridge to College Math transition course (and earn a B or better grade) as seniors to get the automatic placement deal offered to students scoring at level 3 as juniors. Local colleges can extend that agreement to include additional algebra-intensive courses (with Algebra 2 as a formal or informal prerequisite) in the high school math course sequence based on local transcript-based placement discussions, an option that would be particularly useful in the short term given that only slightly more than one-quarter of districts in the state will be offering the transition course in 2015-16.

  1. Will a student who takes pre-calculus as a high school junior with an A or B in the class and who scores at level 3 on the Smarter Balanced assessment have to take calculus as a high school senior in order to get a placement into a “calculus pathway” course? (A student who is in Algebra 2 as a junior and scores at level 3 would only have to take pre-calculus as a senior.)

Scoring at level 3 can be combined with pre-calculus or its equivalent as the highest math taken (whether it be senior or junior year) to qualify for pre-calculus placement per the placement agreement. Students succeeding in pre-calculus as juniors should be encouraged to take a rigorous math class as seniors.

  1. English Smarter Balanced scores can be used for placement any time during the first academic year for students immediately following high school graduation; math scores can only be used in the initial (fall) quarter. Can colleges modify the agreement locally to extend the timeframe for math to match English?

Yes; the terms of the system-wide agreement will be revisited at the end of the provisional period.

  1. What if a student re-takes the Smarter Balanced assessment as a senior and gets a higher score?

Although at this time no statewide decisions have been made about funding re-takes on the high school assessments, as the Smarter Balanced assessment is phased in as a graduation requirement districts will need to offer a re-take opportunity for any students scoring below college-ready (levels 1 and 2). If students earn a higher score then they will follow the placement option recommendation for the higher level based on the re-test score.

  1. How does this agreement apply to Running Start and other dual credit programs for high school students?

For students who want to take Running Start or another dual-credit course as seniors, the Smarter Balanced would apply just as it does for students entering college after high school. At present, students who want to begin Running Start as juniors (before they’ve taken the Smarter Balanced assessment) would need to qualify for college-level work through whatever process currently exists at the college offering the credit. After taking the Smarter Balanced high school assessment in the spring of their junior year (or for English Language Arts, in their sophomore or junior years), these results could then be used to qualify for college-level courses in English or math through Running Start.

  1. Are the current required high school assessments—the 10th grade High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) in English Language Arts and the math end-of course exams (Algebra I and Geometry)—given any consideration by higher education as part of this agreement?

No. The HSPE has been eliminated and is no longer being offered to students as of spring 2015, replaced by having 10th graders take the high school Smarter Balanced assessment in English Language Arts. For math, the end-of-course assessments are still required for graduation but are being phased out, with the new Smarter Balanced assessment becoming the requirement for the class of 2019. At the present the Smarter Balanced high school assessment is the only assessment clearly developed for and aligned to the college and career readiness standards in the Common Core so it is the only assessment addressed in this agreement. Regardless of whether the Smarter Balanced assessments are required for graduation, the purpose of the agreement is to encourage students to meet the new higher standards defined by the Common Core, using the Smarter Balanced high school assessment as the key performance metric.

  1. If 10th-grade students are taking the Smarter Balanced high school assessment in English Language Arts, are their scores included in the placement agreement?

Yes, the community and technical college agreement has been updated so that these students are included; the agreement will allow 10th grade students scoring above the Smarter Balanced-defined threshold for college-readiness to be able to use that score to place into an English Composition course through Running Start (as a junior or senior) or when they enter college after their high school senior year. [Note: per current legislative requirements, 10th grade students are taking the high school Smarter Balanced assessment in English Language Arts only along with the 11th grade students. If they achieve a college-ready (levels 3 or 4) score they will be able to “bank” the score and not take the ELA assessment as juniors. ]

  1. What senior-year “pathways” to college readiness are available to students scoring below college-ready (level 1 in particular) on the high school assessment?


The statewide automatic placement agreement applies only to students who score in the level 2 range on the Smarter Balanced assessment; for students scoring in the level 1 range local school districts will need to define viable pathways to college readiness, possibly in partnership with area colleges. For example, districts may opt to make the senior year college readiness/transition course available to students scoring at level 1 and then provide a retest opportunity. If a student retests and earns a higher score then he/she follows the placement option recommendation for that level. Colleges may also develop a more expansive local agreement with specific local districts that would include level 1 students based on the Smarter Balanced score, transcript information, GPA, or additional high school information.

  1. If a Running Start student has passed a college-level course that requires college-level skills, why wouldn’t that student automatically receive the equivalent of a 4 (college readiness) on the Smarter Balanced assessment? 

A key purpose of the Smarter Balanced assessment system is to replace the federal accountability testing system for K-12 schools (required for grades 3-8 and high school), so that’s the reason why high school students are required to take the test. Beyond that, the assessments are intended to provide clear and detailed feedback to students and schools about progress toward achieving the Washington K-12 Learning Standards in English Language Arts and math as defined by the Common Core. Given that college courses—and by extension, grades in those courses—aren’t designed to reflect the Common Core State Standards, there’s no guarantee that because a Running Start student passes a college course he or she has achieved those standards. If Running Start juniors are truly “college-ready” in terms of the Common Core standards, they should have no problem scoring well on the Smarter Balanced assessments.

  1. How will the Smarter Balanced scores be reported to higher education for the purpose of applying the placement agreement?

For now students are being asked to provide a copy of their score report—hand-delivered if necessary—to the college they are attending if they want to use their scores for placement purposes. SBCTC is currently working with OSPI to develop a statewide process for data-sharing and student consent; students will provide consent and authorize access to their test score data when they register or request placement at a higher education institution. College staff will need to input the data into college data system until automated process can be developed through ctcLink. For the initial implementation colleges will be able to access Smarter Balanced scores (level, scale scores, claims scores) and high school math/English course-taking as needed for placement purposes. The goal is to have this system operational in time for students entering college in fall 2016.

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