Explore the Core: Why Shift to the Smarter Balanced Assessment?

Dr. TJ Bliss, Assessment Director

Over the past year, the Assessment and Accountability Division at the State Department of Education has worked to support teachers and administrators in preparing for the transition to the new Smarter Balanced Assessment System. Most of this effort has been focused on the "what" and "how" of transitioning: technology, scheduling, accessibility, test structure, and more. The state piloted the Smarter Balanced year-end assessment in 124 schools in Spring 2013. This spring, we will administer a Field Test to help districts, schools, teachers, and students even better understand the "what" and "how" of Smarter Balanced. This Field Test also will validate the test questions before the test becomes fully operational in Spring 2015.

Many Idaho teachers and administrators are excited about transitioning to this new assessment.

Kimberly Schafer, the Language Arts Department Chair at Lake Hazel Middle School in Meridian, said the Smarter Balanced Assessment reflects what she is already doing in her classroom as a teacher. She said, "I gave my students a similar assessment last year with more difficult test questions and performance tasks. They said it was the best test they had ever taken, and they actually enjoyed taking it. One student even told me he thought the test ‘cared about him' because it was giving him a chance to prove his ideas beyond multiple choice questions, helping him learn. I believe this is what the state and classroom teachers will gain through Smarter Balanced."

Giselle Isbell, a teacher at Anser Charter School in Boise, says, "I am looking forward to the Smarter Balanced Assessment because it will give me more in-depth information about my students and their thinking and reasoning."

As we continue this three-year transition to a new assessment, we hope you will join teachers like Kimberly and Giselle in helping your students and their families understand some of the reasons "why" the move to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System is important and valuable to Idaho. Here are a just a few of the reasons:

  • Smarter Balanced is currently one of only two assessments fully aligned to the Idaho Core Standards. The summative (end-of-year) test will be more than multiple choice. It will combine multiple choice, constructed response, technology enhanced and performance tasks to measure students' ability to balance conceptual understanding with procedural fluency, connect these two types of knowledge, reason mathematically, construct viable arguments, engage with complex texts, and use evidence to inform, argue and analyze. In short, it will allow students to show what they know and can do in ways that are more similar to how you, as teachers, ask students to show evidence of learning in the classroom.
  • The Smarter Balanced assessment will probe student knowledge at much deeper levels than the ISAT. The computer adaptive test engine and advanced test question types will provide more accurate measures of student learning, while the performance tasks will measure student knowledge at both depth and breadth. Even more, unlike the ISAT, the Smarter Balanced Assessment can be broken up into multiple sessions allowing for greater flexibility in scheduling and reducing student testing fatigue. For example, students can take the Smarter Balanced assessment in 45-minute or hour-long chunks across multiple days or weeks if the school prefers, rather than in one sitting for an entire day.
  • Idaho educators and educational leaders have been deeply involved in the development and direction of the Smarter Balanced Assessment System from the beginning. To date, more than 100 teachers have helped write test questions, conduct range finding, or other tasks. Superintendent Luna, the Department's Chief of Staff, the Department's Assessment Director and representatives of the Office of the State Board of Education all represent the State of Idaho in decisions made about the Smarter Balanced Assessment System. As a governing member in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium going forward, Idaho will be able to continue this involvement in the future.
  • We refer to it as the Smarter Balanced Assessment "System" because it is just that – a system. It is not just one test given at the end of the school year. Through Smarter Balanced, Idaho will have access to a year-end, summative assessment as well as interim and formative assessment tools that teachers can use throughout the school year to inform teaching and learning in the classroom on a daily basis. These additional assessment tools will be available through the the Smarter Balanced Formative Digital Library, beginning this April. It will contains assessment literacy modules, exemplar instructional modules, and other educational resources that teachers can use to inform and improve instructional practice in formative assessment.
  • Students can receive a direct benefit from the 11th grade summative assessment. For the first time ever, all public colleges and universities in Idaho (as well as many in the other consortium states) have agreed to use student scores from the 11th grade test to make placement decisions. Therefore, students scoring at a certain level on the 11th grade test will not have to take remedial courses once they go on to college.

The Assessment and Accountability Division welcomes questions and comments from teachers about the Smarter Balanced Assessment System.

For questions about the Formative Digital Library, please contact Nancy Thomas Price at nthomasprice@sde.idaho.gov. For general questions about Smarter Balanced, please contact Dr. TJ Bliss at tjbliss@sde.idaho.gov or Angela Hemingway at ahemingway@sde.idaho.gov.