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Smarter Balanced Celebrates Successful Practice Run

This coming school year, a majority of states will implement the Common Core State Standards and corresponding assessments from either the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. To prepare for the new assessments, both consortia field-tested thousands of test items this spring. AACTE asked each consortium to provide our members with an update on its progress. This post addresses Smarter Balanced; find the PARCC update here. The views in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

As K-12 schools across the country work on implementing the Common Core State Standards, a major body of work has been preparation of new assessments built to assess student mastery of the standards. In June, the 22-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium marked a significant milestone as its field test came to a close. The scale and scope of this “practice run” of new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards was truly unprecedented; 4.2 million students participated, making this field test the largest online assessment in the nation’s history.

The field test represents a major milestone toward developing next-generation assessments. It serves several important purposes.

  • Quality assurance: The field test evaluates the performance of more than 19,000 assessment items and performance tasks that will be used for both end-of-year summative assessments and optional interim assessments—as well as the performance of the online testing system. For test developers, the field test shows which questions work well and which ones need to be improved so that they contribute to fair and accurate assessments of student achievement.
  • Achievement standards: Data from the field test will allow Smarter Balanced to set preliminary achievement standards this fall. These achievement standards aim to indicate whether students are on track to achieve college and career readiness in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.
  • Test administration: For member states, the field test provides an opportunity to make sure technology systems and administration logistics are ready for implementation of the assessment system in the 2014-15 school year.

During the testing window from March through June, 16,549 schools across the consortium states participated in the field test. While several states tested most or all of their students, the majority had just 10% of students participate in the English language arts/literacy assessment and 10% participate in the mathematics assessment. Broad participation from member states has allowed Smarter Balanced to gather extensive information about 19,102 questions and performance tasks—aligned to the Common Core—that were developed and reviewed by teachers, higher education faculty, and other content experts.

The Smarter Balanced field test also provided a comprehensive suite of accommodations and accessibility resources. In fact, more than a third of the test sessions used a combination of universal tools, designated supports, and accommodations to meet the individual accessibility needs of students.

While test administration has gone smoothly across the states, there are, of course, lessons to be learned. Over the past month, Smarter Balanced has held informal sessions with each state to solicit feedback on their experiences with the field test. States also have been conducting their own informal surveys with educators and students, and the consortium will review this information and identify actions that it can take to ensure that test administration in 2014-15 is successful.

Teacher educators are invited to participate in setting the achievement standards this fall. A workshop in October will convene faculty nominated by their state higher education leads, but anyone may sign up for the online panel to be held October 6-17. Click here to learn more about the process for setting achievement standards and to register.

For more information on the field test, click here.

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Jacqueline E. King, Ph.D.

AACTE Consultant