“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Last year we began the year at my school teaching the Washington State Standards. Then, in late fall, we received word that our district would be part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) field test. At that point, we dropped the WA EALRs and switched to Common Core State Standards. It was not easy. We didn’t have CCSS aligned materials, we had to search them out and create our own. We started learning everything we could about the SBAC field test so we could prepare our students and not have them go into it completely blind. At times, it felt like a storm. In the midst of our first full year with CCSS and quickly approaching the Smarter Balanced Assessment (the “C” has been dropped, read this post for more on SBA acronyms) window, it can feel still like a storm. However, I refuse to be afraid. We’re all in this together, and we’re going to make it through.
My personal philosophy, and hope, is that if I use the Common Core State Standards to drive my instruction, that my students will be college and career ready (after completing a few more years of school anyway), and ready for the SBA. However, the SBA is new, it’s different, and I’m grateful that we had last year to prepare. We knew we wouldn’t be getting scores back from the field test. We have no data to show whether the strategies we used were successful based on SBA results. What I do know is that our preparations as a staff helped our students feel prepared. And, after the end of a lengthy testing period my students walked away from the tests feeling confident. They were not defeated. They were not scared. They did not feel like they were in the midst of a storm, and they do not view the approaching SBA as something to worry about. So, even without data, I know we were successful. Here are six things I learned last year that I hope you will find helpful in navigating through the storm.
- Take the practice tests! Usually, I dislike taking practice tests just to take practice tests. I feel like I’m losing valuable teaching time. However, the SBA is different than
any other test students have taken and students will be frustrated if they have never been exposed to the questions or answer types. You will cut down on student frustration levels by taking the time to take a practice test.
- When we took practice tests, I followed the same format I usually use when teaching something new – I modeled. I modeled a section of the test, we read a passage together, I showed them how I took notes both on paper and with the SBA tools. I showed them how I thought through each question to determine what it was really asking. I demonstrated how I analyzed each possible answer to choose the best solution to the problem. Then, I had students practice the same section independently.
- Last year, we only had the practice tests available. While these expose students to all of the different item types and response types, the downside is these tests aren’t graded. New this year are interim assessments that you can have students take on a specific topic you have covered in class, these tests are scored so you have some data to work with. I will be trying these soon and will report back on how it goes.
- Get your students typing! Responding via typing is different than writing responses by hand, and it helps if students are fluent typists. There are many free typing tools online that you can use at school, or suggest students use at home. Dance Mat Typing from BBC is one my students like. Common Core State Standards in ELA call for students to publish writing in a variety of ways. If your students have not yet typed an entire story/informational text/persuasive essay in a word processing program, do it. Have them print out their work and review the different types of mistakes you make when you’re typing than when you write by hand.
- Teachers monitor students’ progress on the test. You will login to a teacher portal and your class list will show up and let you know what question each student is on. In math especially we noticed some students were going very fast through the first 10 problems, and other students were still on the third problem after twenty minutes. This was disconcerting at first, but we soon realized some students were given multiple choice answers first while others were solving more complex word problems. In the end, it all balanced out.
- Give your students advanced warning of when you will be stopping for the day. Have students finish the section they are on and then stop, even if there are 10 minutes left. We tested for half days over multiple days. At the end of each day/testing period students stopped where they were. The next day any previous work or questions they had been exposed to disappeared and they couldn’t go back to finish or check. (This is only true on the ELA and Math computer adaptive sections, this is not the case for the Performance Tasks.)
- Students cannot skip ahead to preview the entire test. There are safety measures in place to try and prevent this from happening. Before ending a section students
are asked and re-asked if they want to check work, if they are sure they are done, and then hit submit. However, I had one student who raised his hands 15 minutes into the math test because, despite the safeguards, had managed to click through the entire test to try and see what was coming. He could no longer go back and actually do the math problems because the computer assumed he had done the work and was done.
- Students need to be able to identify between narrative, informational, and argumentative/persuasive writing, and be able to write in each style. On the ELA Performance Task your students will be given a narrative, opinion/argumentative, or informational/expository prompt. (Your class will receive all three types of prompts – your class will not be given all the same type of writing.) Even if they write the most beautiful narrative ever, if they were told to write an informational article the will receive the lowest score on the rubric.
I’m sure I will publish this post and there will be more that I will think of to share. Please feel free to ask questions! There is a lot we will learn this year as our students officially take the SBA for the first time. I hope that everyone is giving themselves permission to breathe. Be confident in the work you are doing with your students, prepare them the best you can for the rest of this year, and remember, the SBA is just one part of what this year has in store. Don’t let it define the year for you or your students. Together, we will make it through the storm.
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