Smarter Balanced: Overview
The annual state accountability testing in California has moved away from the previous STAR paper-and-pencil multiple-choice tests and toward the Smarter Balanced Assessments. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has developed a system of valid, reliable, and fair next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts/literacy (ELA/literacy) and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 11. The system – which includes both summative assessments for accountability purposes and optional interim assessments for instructional use – uses computer adaptive testing technologies to the greatest extent possible to provide meaningful feedback that teachers and parents/guardians can use to help students succeed.
Smarter Balanced Assessments go beyond multiple-choice questions to include extended response and technology-enhanced items, as well as performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Performance tasks challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to respond to complex real-world problems. They can best be described as collections of questions and activities that are coherently connected to a single theme or scenario. These activities are meant to measure capacities such as depth of understanding, writing and research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately evaluated with traditional assessment questions (like those on the old STAR tests). The performance tasks are completed on a computer (but are not computer-adaptive). In addition to the performance tasks in ELA and Math, computer-adaptive summative assessments in both subjects are administered, as well.
Why should my child participate in Pathways assessments?
The state has always made it clear that one of the trade-offs for the flexibility in programs like Pathways is full participation in California’s statewide accountability testing. This is true for all charter schools, including home-based independent study programs. Furthermore, charter schools are held to an even higher standard because adequate test participation and performance are directly tied to our sponsor district’s ability to renew our charter every five years. As a consequence, we often describe participation in this testing as a type of community service, in that it helps to ensure Pathways’ viability and availability as an educational alternative. Similarly, our in-house assessment tools (i.e., early reading and math benchmarks, Renaissance, math diagnostics, high school course finals, etc.) have always been an essential component of our charter mandate, and the new state accountability plan (LCAP) requires these, as well. Accordingly, even beyond the data you will see regarding your child’s performance (areas of strength and growth), participation in these assessments is critical.
What does the test include?
In the spring, students in grades 3-8 and 11 will take both the English Language Arts and Mathematics portions of the tests. Additionally, students in grades 5, 8, and 10 will take the CAST Science tests, which will assess their cumulative science knowledge. The online exams will consist of the following question types:
- Computer Selected Response (student chooses answer)
- Computer Constructed Response (student generates answer)
- Computer Enhanced Response (student manipulates items on computer screen by using a mouse or by interacting with technology in some other way)
- Performance Tasks (includes a brief preparatory lesson prior to the day of testing)
Students will be asked to respond to a variety of question types, including: multiple choice, one correct response, multiple correct responses, two-part questions, matching tables, yes/no, true/false, equation or numeric response, short text, and long essay. Students will be expected to fill-in tables, select or order text or graphics, drag and drop, and complete graphing, equation, or numeric responses, short text, and long essay questions. The training test will allow students to experience the different format and technology skills needed for the test.
How can I help my student prepare for this test?
Since this is an online test, we know that, in order to feel comfortable and successful, many students will need to improve their keyboarding skills. Therefore, we have made available two types of online typing programs for Pathways students: Keyboarding Without Tears (recommended for students in grades K-5) and EduTyping (recommended for middle and high school students). These inexpensive keyboarding programs can be purchased with student funds, so please talk with your IST if you’d like to acquire one of these programs for your child.
In addition to strong keyboarding skills, students will need practice with the test itself. There are training and practice tests available online; additionally, we have plans to host practice sessions at our regional offices and learning centers. We’ll update you with more information about these practice tests and opportunities as soon as it is available.
Currently, two practice test options are available: The first is a training test; it was created so students could become familiar with the testing software and interface. The training tests are in grade bands and do not include performance tasks; universal tools, designated supports, and accommodations are included. We recommend that parents and students start with this test. The second option is a practice test; this set of examples was initiated in June 2012, offering grade-specific testing experiences similar to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. One English Language Arts and one Mathematics performance task is included per grade level; some, but not all, supports and accommodations are included.
Finally, we will provide additional preparation and practice materials for all students.
Updates about PCS support for testing students and their parents/guardians will be shared as details become available.
For more information and to access the student training and practice tests, see the Smarter Balanced Assessment resources at the Sonoma County Office of Education. No SSID or guest session information is needed to take the training and practice assessments.
Testing takes place in late April and early May. Please see the current school calendar for this year's window.
Why can’t I just opt out?
You may be aware that parents have the right to waive state-mandated testing. However, for the reasons discussed above, we strongly discourage this. Since the state of California expects virtually 100% participation, any waivers put our program in jeopardy. In addition, according to the terms of the Acknowledgement of Responsibilities that all students, parents, and teachers sign, we are responsible to account for the adequate academic progress of our students.
For more information: please visit the CAASPP* information pages at the CDE website *CAASPP = California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, and includes the Smarter Balanced Assessments in ELA and Math (grades 3-8, 11) and the CST Science Assessments (grades 5, 8, 10).