After conducting trainings with both middle school and high school teachers in the last couple of months, we’ve had multiple requests to help identify common language used on the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) practice tests (both Computer Adaptive and Performance Tasks). Last week, Beth began listing the key academic language used in the stems of the ELA assessment items by grade level (taken from the SBAC Resources page). She compiled lists for 6th-8th grade and 11th grade. As she began to try to cross-reference the middle school lists to determine words/phrases that were common across grade levels, it was clear it was going to be a laborious task. We’re up for a good challenge, for sure, but we had a revelation, too: we could give you what you want in a timely way through a Wordle!
For those of you yet unfamiliar, a Wordle is a word cloud that is created by dropping text into a Wordle Create engine and then hitting Go; it’s that easy! When creating our grade level lists for middle school, Beth wrote down each word/phrase once, regardless of how many times it was used in an assessment. We then combined the three grade level lists and dropped it into Wordle Create to get our custom word cloud:
The words in the larger fonts are those repeated across grade levels, where the smallest fonts indicate terms only seen at one grade level. We’ll work on a separate Wordle for individual grade levels by going back and counting the number of times individual words/phrases are repeated in the tasks.
In fact, that’s what we did for 11th grade. Here, Beth repeated words as many times as they were used in both segments of the practice test. For example, the word text is used 20 times, whereas the word opinion is used once:
As you work on word walls or otherwise infuse academic language into your lessons, these Wordles can help both you and your students focus on significant vocabulary, and you can instruct on the skills these words/phrases pinpoint (like identifying and using text support).
As a classroom practitioner, it’s your call how much time to spend on such terms; we’re all about balance. Students will encounter the live SBA for the first time next spring (2015). Regardless of the assessment tool, Common Core State Standards use the same kinds of terms. Infusing academic language into your lessons across the year is best practice, and these lists may offer terms from which you can draw and add to your students’ repertoire.