The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — one of the two multi-state consortia that, with some $360 million in federal funds, were tasked with designing new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards — just put out a news release with a big announcement and an accompanying release with an “interpretation” of that announcement.

The initial release, titled “Smarter Balanced States Approve Achievement Level Recommendations,” says that consortium members have now approved initial achievement levels for math and English language tests to be administered in 17 states this school year, for the first time. This release was termed as “an important milestone in the development of the assessment system.”

Here they are:

To help people understand what all of that is supposed to mean, the consortium issued a  paper titled “Interpretation and Use of Scores and Achievement Levels.” (See text below) But the interpretation needs some interpretation. Take this paragraph:

Although the Achievement Level Descriptors are intended to aid interpretation of Achievement Levels, they will be less precise than scale scores for describing student gains over time or changes in achievement gaps among groups, since they do not reveal changes of student scores within the bands defined by the achievement levels. Furthermore, there is not a critical shift in student knowledge or understanding that occurs at a single cut score point. Thus, the achievement levels should be understood as representing approximations of levels at which students demonstrate mastery of a set of concepts and skills, and the scale scores just above and below an achievement level as within a general band of performance.

What? There must be an easier way to say that achievement levels are approximations.

And there’s this:

As Smarter Balanced states consider these Achievement Levels, they will continue to investigate and apply a variety of methods of analyzing and reporting the data that provide information to their students, parents and teachers, including but not limited to student and student subgroup averages, medians, and other descriptive statistics that utilize the underlying vertical scale.

Good to know that they are utilizing the underlying vertical scale. I think.

Here’s the paper with the interpretation of the achievement levels. Interpret the interpretation for yourself.