To be honest, isolated “test-prep” just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I say that as a teacher who’s done it. A lot of it. Until recently …
You see, ideally the work being done each and every day in the classroom would not only include meaningful tasks that prepare students to be college, career, and community ready, but because of that focus, simultaneously prepare students to be successful on high-stakes summative assessments. As a former ELA TOSA working with 3rd-6th grade teachers across a district and now an instructional coach, I’ve had the unique opportunity to spend hours upon hours in classrooms where teachers demonstrate just that. However, it doesn’t happen by accident, and frankly, it doesn’t even happen just because you know the standards inside and out. In my observation, an intentional blend of standards-based instruction and knowledge of the components and structure of the assessment is the key to success. Here are a few tips/resources to get you started off on the right foot:
What is Being Assessed?
That’s easy. The standards, right? Yes, that’s true. However, becoming familiar with the wording of specific skills that will be measured, which standards those skills encompass, and how progress towards proficiency of these skills is communicated through scoring reports will help you focus your instruction and target the skills needing additional support. Speaking of target, you’ll come across that word as you continue to become more acquainted with the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Each subject, ELA and Math, defines specific targets that students will be assessed on. These targets fall under broader areas of focus called claims.
ELA, for example, has four claims: reading, writing, speaking/listening (only listening is assessed), and research/inquiry. Under these claims, you’ll find a variety of targets defining specific skills that represent clusters of standards. This 3rd grade example shows three of the 14 targets in claim 1. You’ll notice that several of those targets represent more than one reading standard.
When reviewing spring SBA data in preparation for the current school year or during the year using interim assessments, understanding which targets are a strength and which have opportunity for growth can completely transform your teaching. Use this information to inform your instruction and embed necessary interventions with the resources you’re already using in the classroom throughout the entire school year, not just the month before testing begins.
How is it Being Assessed?
The what is definitely important, but the how is a game changer. Imagine that you’ve been working on a particular skill, maybe it’s adding and subtracting fractions. You’ve ensured that your students know and understand several methods (draw a picture, traditional algorithm, etc.) and feel confident in their proficiency. However, they happen to be faced with a multiple-step, multiple-solution story problem requiring them to not just recall an algorithm, but to think strategically and be prepared to justify their answer with evidence.
By understanding the various depth of knowledge levels and what those levels look like in regard to specific standards, specifically on high-stakes assessments, we can ensure our daily math tasks expose students to the level of rigor necessary for them to develop critical thinking skills and a deep conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts.
Where Do I Learn More?
The information above is just the tip of the iceberg. Along with specific targets and standards and how they’re assessed at various levels of cognitive demand comes more aspects that make high-stakes tests unique, but that can be embedded in the day to day work so that students aren’t blindsided or under-prepared come testing season. The following resources are helpful to me as I learn more about the Smarter Balanced Assessment in effort to ensure my students are developing the skills necessary to be college, career, and community ready AND to help them be successful on this particular test through the meaningful work they do each and every day.
Smarter Balanced Assessment – Development and Design specifically Content Specifications and Item and Task Specifications.
Smarter Balanced Assessment – Sample Items Website not necessarily for isolated SBA question practice, but to give you an idea as to how various question types are structured. These can be filtered by grade, claim, target, question type, and the DOKs are labeled!