A few weeks ago I posted about my experience watching my students take their Smarter Balanced ELA assessment for the first time. Yes, this year is just a field test, but I find it comforting for my students and me to have the opportunity to experience the logistics of the test before the real-deal next year. As mentioned in my last post, the Smarter Balanced assessments have a very different layout than the MSP that we are used to. In the past, each grade-level would take a reading assessment, and only specific grade-levels would take writing. Now that we have shifted into CCSS implementation, all grade-levels that are testing will take an ELA assessment given in multiple testing sessions. Math, on the other hand, does have a few similarities to the MSP. Just like in the past, all grade-levels that are testing will complete a math assessment. However, the content and structure of these tests are quite difference. Today, I’m going to focus on the latter, and discuss the structure and logistics of the Smarter Balanced math assessment.
Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) Non-Performance Task
An adaptive test adjusts the type of questions being asked based on how the tester is answering them. Basically, the test will get more or less difficult depending on the accuracy of the responses. Smarter Balanced states that this allows a much more accurate picture of student performance. Students will be able to demonstrate mastery of a skill more quickly and even gives them the opportunity to answer above grade-level questions. The Smarter Balanced math CAT consists of a variety of question types such as multiple choice, short answer, and drag and drop. Students will also have available to them a variety of tools including a highlighter, on-screen sticky note, and a calculator in some instances.
One of the things I like best about the new assessment system, is the presence of a classroom activity that happens before both the ELA and Math performance tasks. The classroom activity allows for the teacher and students to build background together relating to the topic of the performance task which usually occurs the following day. For the math classroom activity, Smarter Balanced provides a script for teachers with specific questions to ask their students. This activity allows students to think individually about their knowledge regarding a specific topic, but also share their thinking with the whole-group. This 30 minute activity aims to provide a more equitable testing situation for students.
Just as with the ELA performance task, the math performance task is directly related to the topic of the classroom activity. The math performance task will ask fewer, but more rigorous and in-depth, questions about a specific topic. Students will be provided with some of the tools from the CAT (calculator, notes, highlighter), and asked to not only solve mathematical problems but explain their thinking and reasoning in extended responses.
The bottom line is; change can be difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. Switching over from the MSP to the Smarter Balanced assessments is absolutely no exception. I understand that teachers, students, parents, and basically all educational stake-holders are worried that students will not be prepared for these more rigorous CCSS aligned assessments. I understand that these stake-holders are also worried about the technological demands that online testing presents schools and school districts. I firmly believe, however, that we are taking a step in the right direction. Not only for helping our students become competitively college and career ready, but also towards aligning our schools’ resources with the 21st century in preparation for administering the Smarter Balanced assessment.