How Does the SBA Practice Test Impact our Instruction?

I was not as anxious to review the new Smarter Balanced Practice Test as my English Language Arts (ELA) compadre was about the ELA portion.  However, I’ve done my duty and have updates to share for Math.

Some teachers have been hearing/reading about two versions of the SBA that are currently in circulation: the Practice Test and Field Test are different assessments drawing from the same pool of SBA items.  Anyone can get on the Smarter Balanced website and take the Practice Test.  Its purpose is to “provide students with an early look at sets of assessment questions aligned to the Common Core….”

The SBA Field Test  is only available to those schools who volunteered to test a prototype Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It is given under testing conditions and is, in essence, a test of the test.  Neither participating students nor schools will receive scores for their efforts. In GBSD, Dexter McCarty Middle School (the only school in the district participating) is in the midst of administering both the SBA Math and ELA Field Test to their 8th graders. The excerpt below explains the purpose of the field test:

Smarter Balanced is conducting a Field Test from March 25 – June 6, 2014. The Field Test is a practice run of the assessment system that helps ensure that test questions are accurate and fair for all students. It also gives teachers and schools a chance to gauge their readiness in advance of the first operational assessment in spring 2015.  All 21 Governing States are participating in the Field Test.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is concluding field testing items this spring. In the meantime, the Practice Test has been updated since its first release in the Spring of 2013. Significant consistencies between the tools available on the previous practice test, new practice test, and field test include:

  • The use of drawing tools
  • The use of drag and drop numbers
  • The need to justify some answers in writing
  • 6th grade use of a basic pop-up calculator (no fraction key) during the calculator section.
  • 7th and 8th grade use of a pop-up scientific calculator (no fraction key) during the calculator section.
  • 11th grade use of a pop-up scientific, graphing and regression calculator during the calculator section.

New to the Practice Test and reflected in the field test (according to our DMMS teacher) are:

  • Two sections of the SBA Non-performance Task – calculator and non-calculator.

    A 6th grade non-calculator question

    A 6th grade non-calculator question

  • “Boxed” words in the text of items are connected to a pop-up glossary.  When they are clicked, the definition comes up (e.g., cement walkway = area of hard surface to walk on).

11th grade question with the glossary definition of “cement walkway”.

  • Required memorization of formulas (e.g., Volume and Surface Area of difference shapes – Cones, spheres, cylinders, prisms).  There is no formula sheet or formula written as part of the question.

    8th Grade Question

    8th Grade Question

  • A higher than expected level of rigor for transformation questions at 8th and 11th Grades.
8th grade transformation question

8th grade transformation question

  • The addition of a pop-up window with special characters (over 100 math symbols, greek letters, etc.) is available to answer questions requiring an explanation or proof.  Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 7.13.49 AM
Math symbol button

Special Character button

On the Performance Task side, the questions have not changed.  The tasks and Classroom Activities can be found on the Resources and Documentation page of the practice test.

What does that mean for our instruction?  The practice test provides teachers a sense of how the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium views the depth of the Common Core Standards.  This insight can help guide us to the depth of understanding our students need to be experiencing.  The 8th grade teacher whose students are participating in the SBA Field Test is thinking carefully about how his instruction will change because of this experience. He’s definitely thinking more problem solving – much more than what is given in the current text book.  Of course, balancing the explicit teaching of skills with more problem solving in the amount of time allocated for classes will require planning.

We encourage you to view the SBA Practice Test to familiarize yourself with the item types students will encounter, and think about the kind of scaffolded instruction you can provide to help students be successful. For assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us!




One thought on “How Does the SBA Practice Test Impact our Instruction?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s