With the new Common Core State Standards; the state of Washington (and all states who adopted the CCSS) needed to choose an assessment aligned with the standards to replace the MSP; our previous end-of-year assessment. Washington State chose to partner with Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). This past week, my 6th graders were given the opportunity to pilot the Smarter Balanced ELA assessment, and although I can’t delve into specifics, I would like to shed some light on the structure of the assessment; as it’s very different than what our students have experienced in the past.
The Smarter Balanced ELA assessment will have four sections that vary in length and activity type. Those sections are the CAT (computer adaptive test), classroom activity, performance task one (PT1), and performance task two (PT2).
Computer Adaptive Test (CAT)
To allow for more accurate results, Smarter Balanced has designed a portion of the ELA assessment to be adaptive. When a student is taking an adaptive test, the test will adjust to be more or less difficult depending on how the student is answering the questions. The Smarter Balanced website states that, “by adapting to the student as the assessment is taking place, these assessments present an individually tailored set of questions to each student and can quickly identify which skills the student has mastered.” Smarter Balanced recommends one day for students to complete this portion of the test. I would say that the majority of my students took about 3 hours; which is similar to the length of time it took my past students to complete the reading MSP.
The classroom activity is a very new concept when it comes to end-of-year testing. This activity takes places after the CAT (we did this a week after the CAT due to scheduling) but should take place the day before students take their performance task. Smarter Balanced suggests about 30 minutes for the classroom activity to take place, and as you probably guessed, it should happen in the classroom and be guided by the classroom teacher. The purpose of this portion of the test is to build common background knowledge and relevant vocabulary. It allows for issues like varying life experiences and background knowledge to not be a factor in the students’ performance on the next portion of the test.
Performance Task One (PT1)
The two performance tasks go hand-in-hand, however Smarter Balanced suggests that they are administered on two separate but consecutive days. For the first performance tasks, students are asked to read/view a series of resources on a subject (which is related to the classroom activity from the day before). After this, the students answered questions related to what they read. This activity took my students an average of 1.5 hours.
Performance Task Two (PT2)
This is the final portion of the Smarter Balanced ELA assessment. Students are asked to write an extended response piece based on a prompt given by the assessment. This extended response is also based on the resources that students read during PT1. They will have access to those resources again, however are not allowed to change their answers from PT1.
I will add that after watching my students experience the Smarter Balanced pilot assessment, it became very apparent that adequate typing skills are crucial for students. Because the assessments are computerized, students need to type all responses, quickly and accurately. Because of this, I will put great emphasis on typing skills next year.
All in all, the new Smarter Balanced Assessment was no doubt comprehensive. It brings me peace as an educator know that because of this, my students, their families, and I will be receiving incredibly accurate information regarding their skills. Smarter Balanced is the new generation of assessment, and I welcome its arrival.