Exploring the Core: Smarter Balanced Field Test

TJ Bliss

By Dr. TJ Bliss, Director of Assessment & Accountability

With the transition to the Idaho Core Standards comes the need to transition to an improved assessment system aligned to the new standards. This year, Idaho will be participating in a field test of the Smarter Balanced end-of-year assessment.

Last spring, superintendents and principals across the state made it clear to the State Department of Education that they did not want students taking both the ISAT and the Smarter Balanced field test. Teachers and other school leaders also expressed concern at being held accountable to the ISAT, which is not aligned to the new Idaho Core Standards. Because of this feedback from the Idaho education community, Superintendent Luna decided to have all students in Idaho participate in the Smarter Balanced field test instead of taking the ISAT.

The U.S. Department of Education responded to requests from Idaho and other states to allow flexibility in school accountability and testing requirements in order for students to take the field test. The federal government is also allowing schools involved in the field test to hold over accountability determinations from the previous year, because field tests do not provide student-level scores that can be used for this purpose.

The purpose of a field test is to provide students and schools an opportunity to experience the new assessment a year before the test becomes operational, evaluate test questions, work out logistics, and set cut-scores. Field tests are not intended to test students, but are used to "test the test." When it comes to the Smarter Balanced field test this spring, neither the state nor local school districts will be receiving scoring information. Despite this, schools will be receiving a lot of other valuable information prior to the first operational test next year:

  • Evaluation of test questions and whether similar questions should be used going forward
  • Students get to experience this new type of test before they take it in Spring 2015 for accountability purposes
  • School administrators, IT directors, test coordinators, and others have a year to practice administering this test to all students prior to the first full administration for accountability purposes: a testing "dress rehearsal" of sorts.

As with the ISAT, the test questions on the Smarter Balanced field test are secure. This means that only students will be allowed to view the test questions during the field test. However, teachers, administrators, and parents may view high-quality practice test questions similar to those that will be used on the field test. These questions may be viewed at www.smarterbalanced.org.

In addition, we hope teachers will be proactive in communicating with parents and students about the new test, what it will look like and that students will be taking the field test this spring. The Department has created several resources to assist you in these communication efforts. Check out our accurate and up-to-date information about the field test and the new assessment system online at our Idaho Core Communications Toolkit: http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/common/toolkit.htm.