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In 2015, following the adoption of new Nevada Academic Content Standards, the Washoe County School District began assessing students in grades 3-8 using the Smarter Balanced assessment. The Smarter Balanced assessments are criterion referenced, computer-based tests that measure student knowledge of Nevada’s English language arts/literacy (ELA) and Mathematics standards. These assessments replace the former paper-based, multiple-choice assessments for students in grades 3-8. The Smarter Balanced assessment system is intended to be a valid, fair, and reliable approach to student assessment that provides educators, students and parents meaningful results with actionable data to help students succeed.

Why are these results important to us? Although statewide standardized assessments can never provide a complete description of how well a student is learning, or how well a particular school or district is supporting each child, they can provide a good starting point. The tests are designed to assess how students are mastering appropriate standards, developed by educators, that signal how a child is progressing along the pathway to career and/or college readiness. We have studied local data, and state tests do indeed have a strong relationship to on-time graduation for each child, which is central to our core mission.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium includes 15 states. This collaboration allows for quality test construction, at scale, and provides an opportunity to compare how our district measures up against other consortium districts and states.

Reporting Achievement Levels and “At or Above Standard”: Aggregate results from the Smarter Balanced assessment can be reported in multiple ways. Chief among these are Achievement Levels and “At or Above Standard.” Frequently, communication around assessment results centers on “Percent Proficient,” which is the proportion of students scoring at or above standard. This oversimplification leaves out important information regarding student performance at very high levels, very low levels, and levels that approach but do not quite meet the standard. This site will utilize achievement levels and At or Above Standard in order to provide more context to the reader. Remember, the Smarter Balanced assessment is not the only way to quantify success. Each of these measures should only serve as a starting point for discussing student learning in the district. We encourage community members and all members of the WCSD family to engage in dialogue in what these test results mean, and how we can improve on all measures of student success.


Achievement Level Descriptors (ALDs) are often used to explain the knowledge and competencies students display at different levels of achievement. These ALDs are often found on aggregate and student-level score reports so stakeholders, such as parents and teachers, can more fully understand what students have demonstrated on an assessment. The table below defines the achievement levels for the Smarter Balanced assessment. For more information on Smarter Balanced reporting, click here.

Nevada’s Achievement Level Descriptors (revised fall 2016)

Level 4 The student has exceeded the achievement standard and demonstrates advanced progress toward mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for likely success in future coursework.
Level 3 The student has met the achievement standard and demonstrates progress toward mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for likely success in future coursework.
Level 2 The student has nearly met the achievement standard and may require further development to demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed for likely success in future coursework.
Level 1 The student has not met the achievement standard and needs substantial improvement to demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed for likely success in future coursework.





The chart above displays the percent scoring in each achievement level, by student population, in English/Language Arts (ELA). The column to the far left shows how all WCSD students scored. In total, 20% scored in the range of the highest achievement level (level 4). Twenty-nine percent (29%) scored at level three. This sums to 49% scoring at or above the standard. Twenty-six percent (26%) scored in the “The student has nearly met the achievement standard…” range, and 25% scored in the lowest range. Each of these achievement level ranges sends a different signal to educators about how our students should be met and supported in learning and mastering the state’s learning standards.

Looking across the columns, the reader can see that performance varies significantly among populations. As is the case in many measures of academic performance, this shows that we have an achievement gap, and a significant amount of work to do in order to ensure each student, regardless of background, is given the opportunity and supports to master standards, and reach the graduation stage. Using these data as a baseline, along with legacy state test data, we will continue working to close this achievement gap. We have several current programs that are showing promise and have begun implementing new initiatives to tailor supports to specific student needs.

The display above shows the proportion of students “At or Above Standard” (Achievement Levels 3 & 4) by grade. While all numbers hover around the 50% midpoint, some grades stand out as higher than others. It will be interesting to examine these data in future years to see if this is a trend. It should be noted, however, that achievement level and standard setting is an inexact science, so test grades are not necessarily directly comparable to each other. For WCSD, the comparisons that are important over time will be ensuring all grades increase toward 60%, and eventually 90%, as we want all children to meet the high standards adopted by our state and measured by this assessment.

The graph is interactive, so clicking on any grade’s column will expand the view to show how different student populations in that grade performed. Again, viewing these data show several unacceptable achievement gaps among our student populations.

How does Washoe County School District Compare to other Districts around the country who particpate in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium?


A benefit of belonging to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium includes the ability to measure Nevada and WCSD against other member states and districts. The chart above shows how our district and state compare to other western states in the consortium. While we will continually strive toward higher performance, and to outperform other states, it is encouraging to note that WCSD students outperform students, as a whole, in several other states.



The chart above displays the percent scoring in each achievement level, by student population, in Math. Again, the column to the far left shows how all WCSD students scored. Across the district, performance in Math is generally slightly lower than in ELA. This appears to be the case for Nevada as a whole. In total, 18% of WCSD students scored in the range of the highest achievement level in Math, and 25% scored in the Level 3 range. This equates to 43% of students scoring At or Above Standard. Nearly one in three students scored in the “Student has nearly met the achievement standard…” range.

Examining the proportion of students “At or Above Standard” in Math, by grade, shows some differences compared to the same display in ELA. The proportion of students performing at standard is closer to 40%, compared to 50% in ELA, and there is much greater variation between grades.


Interestingly, while WCSD performed lower in Math than in ELA, the district compares more favorably to other states in Math. This is an important part of conversations among educators regarding systemic supports and the transition to the new Math standards. There are several implications for the curricular pathway our students are on, and this should be communicated thoroughly.


As with any new major assessment, the performance measures from the Smarter Balanced test will serve as an important baseline from which WCSD will measure, along with several other indicators, its continuous improvement efforts. We encourage the reader to visit these pages regularly, and compare our progress in context with other data stories we tell on this website. We want to hear from you! Please provide any feedback or questions by using our contact form here!