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What is the Smarter Balanced Assessment?

Teaching symbolsFor the first time this year, Washington State public school students will be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment to measure their acquired learning against the new Common Core State Standards. As a parent, you need some background information on both the standards and the test.

Integrating the Common Core State Standards into the educational system is being done from the national level down to the classroom teacher.  The key to understanding what this change means for your child’s education is to understand where the different components are defined and who has control.

National Goals: The Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards are national educational standards developed by education chiefs and governors in forty-eight states.  They set a nation-wide definition of what students should know in order to be “career and college ready.”  The Common Core Standards define standards for grades K-12 in two areas: mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA).

A Multi-State Program: The Smarter Balanced Consortium

The Common Core State Standards do not measure levels of student learning.  They only set the learning targets.  States have formed consortiums to decide how they will measure student achievement.  Washington State, along with 23 other states, participates in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium which will use the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) to measure student achievement.

The Smarter Balanced program has three components:

  1. A digital library of materials for classroom teachers
  2. Optional interim assessments available to classroom teachers
  3. The required summative assessments which are the Smarter Balanced Assessment in mathematics and the Smarter Balanced Assessment in English language arts.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment will be taken by students in grades 3-8, and 11.  The test is done on a computer, and uses computer adaptive testing (CAT) technologies, which means the program will adjust the difficulty of the test answers based on a student’s previous answers.  Computer adaptive testing makes it possible to identify what skills a student has mastered, and it is expected that results will be supplied much faster than they were for the prior Washington State MSP (Measurement of Student Progress).

Single State Timeline: Common Core Standard Roll-Out

States define their own implementation timeline for the Common Core Standards and when they will phase in the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  In Washington State for the 2014-2015 school year students will take the Smarter Balanced Assessment in English language arts.  Students in grades 5 and 8 will still take the MSP in science.  There will still be end of course exams (EOC exams) for math and biology, and the High School Proficiency Exam in reading and writing, or HSPE, will still be taken.

Washington State has not finalized how and when the Smarter Balanced Assessments will be used to determine graduation requirements in order to phase out some of the other tests of student achievement such as the EOC exams and HSPE.  As of this writing, Washington State House Bill 2214 titled Increasing Academic Rigor and Streamlining Assessment Requirements for High School Students is currently in appropriations.

School District Controlled: What Your Student Will Be Taught

Individual school districts still control curriculum, or literally, what your child will be taught in school.  To understand if the Common Core Standards have changed your child’s curriculum, you need to contact your child’s school district.  Your child’s school district may also have a plan to implement the optional interim assessments that are provided as part of the Smarter Balanced program.

Classroom Teacher Controlled: How Your Student Will Be Taught

The single most important factor in your child’s education is still your child’s classroom teacher.  The Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced program tools, including the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Smarter Balanced digital library, are all tools for your child’s teacher.  Teachers will decide what tools they will use to help your student achieve mastery of the Common Core Standards by passing the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Smart Balanced Assessment Resources for Parents

Common Core Standards

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

Washington State OSPI Smarter Balanced Assessment Website

Washington State OSPI Graduation Requirements

Smarter Balanced Assessment Practice Tests Available to the Public

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