Need to Know: An SBA Update

To be honest, I’m not an early adopter. I like folks to review things and provide pros and cons for me to evaluate. That goes for restaurants, technology, new bike models, and more. So, this whole Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) thing makes me ponder…a lot…probably more than is healthy. Because it’s new. And, except for last year’s field testing and prior pilot testing, (both of which tested the test) it’s largely untried. Neither student scores nor school scores were delivered in either of those tests of the test. Consequently, I feel a little uneasy. No one has gone before; there are no reviews. We don’t have any data to support whether it’s going to be a positive thing or not (lots of anecdotal evidence suggests the opposite). And, it’s really hard to think that assessing students for the last 7-12 weeks of the school year is a good thing.

So, in order to make myself feel better (as an educator and a parent), I’m jumping in with both feet. Pretty much any opportunity to learn more about SBA that comes my way, I’m on it. Shannon’s afflicted too; kinda like a zombie contagion. Most recently, we both participated in an online panel for Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in order to help set an appropriate achievement level “cut score” for the 11th grade ELA (Beth’s focus) and 8th grade Math assessments (Shannon’s focus), respectively–these panels existed in both ELA and math for all of the grade levels facing testing next spring.

Here’s a synopsis of what I learned about the ELA side of the SBA:

  • There was a total of 16 reading passages (meaning articles or literary excerpts), all in the neighborhood of 1.5 – 3 pages.
  • Six of those passages had science content.
  • Six of those passages had social sciences content.
  • Two passages were literary fiction.
  • Two passages were literary non-fiction.
  • The articles that were part of the Performance Task centered on social sciences content.
  • The Performance Task asked students to respond in the Explanatory/Informational mode.

Besides the online panel in which we participated, here’s some additional information I’ve learned from the ELA Summative Assessment Blueprint, published in April of this year on the Smarter Balanced website:

  • Each student will receive an overall ELA/literacy score and four claim scores or sub-scores reported at the individual level: Reading, Writing, Speaking/Listening, and Research.
  • The percentage of items being assessed in each claim area looks like this:
6th-8th Grade:
41% – Claim 1 (Reading)
25% – Claim 2 (writing)
18% – Claim 3 (Speaking/Listening)
16% – Claim 4 (Research)
11th Grade:
40% – Claim 1 (Reading)
26% – Claim 2 (writing)
18% – Claim 3 (Speaking/Listening)
16% – Claim 4 (Research)

Note that although there are far more questions assessing reading than other claims, the weight of the type of question can vary. Selected Response questions are scored right or wrong, whereas Constructed Response text dependent questions are scored with a 2-point rubric and the Performance Task on a 3-Trait, 4-4-2-point rubric.

Finally, I posed a question to Ken Hermens, the Oregon Department of Education’s Language Arts Assessment Specialist that I’d been hearing bubbling up in different settings. My question asked whether or not it would be possible for students to engage in the same classroom activity (on a general subject) but face different Performance Tasks. The short answer: YES. Here’s what he wrote back to me:

“…even though students all participate in the same classroom activity, they could get different performance tasks…with different articles/resources and addressing different writing purposes. One student may do an explanatory/informational essay and another might be doing an argumentative one.”

He also said the version of the Performance Task (there are up to six for a single topic) a student receives is randomly assigned.

In Math, Shannon learned some helpful information, too. Here’s her report:

I went to a workshop last week given by Bryan Toller, ODE’s Mathematics Assessment Specialist.  His morning presentation was around the types of questions that will be seen on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Below are some highlights:

  • Cut scores are likely to come out around mid-November.  They will be adjusted again in the Fall of 2015, after the first round of spring 2015 testing.
  • The Training Test, located on the SBA website, is important to help students understand how to manipulate the tools they will be using to answer the questions.  The training test is NOT about content.  He suggests that teachers have a lesson prepared when taking kids through the training – more than just allowing kids to explore.  For instance, tell kids to click on the calculator button and determine how to find 5³ using the carrot. Have them create a line on a graph, then move one of the endpoints.  And, ask students what they notice about the differences between the number keypad given on some questions and the calculator keypad.
  • Once a student starts the Performance Task, the individual has a 10 day window in which to complete it.  The days are calendar days, not school days.  This window holds true for both math & ELA Performance Tasks. Starting a performance task on a Friday or next to a holiday may not be a good idea.
  • As with ELA, all students will participate in the same classroom activity, but will be randomly assigned a version of the Performance Task regarding the activity.  There are six different versions for each classroom activity.
  • We spent a good deal of the time looking at 2-point Constructed Response questions and how they will be scored.  An 8th grade example is below:

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.25.30 AM

The big idea I took away from this part of Toller’s presentation was the practice we will need to provide the students on how to respond to such questions. It reminded me of the Communicate Reasoning Process dimension on ODE’s scoring guide: Follow a clear and coherent path throughout the entire work sample and lead to a clearly identified solution. Allowing kids to practice typing their solutions on a computer will be important as well.

Whether you’re an early adopter of all things new or not, it appears that the SBA is heading our way fast and furious. Regardless of my trepidation, I must also report that every preview  I’ve been a part of has been impressive. The consortium is vetting the test items thoroughly through multiple panels and diverse audiences. These assessments are sound. The better educated we can be, the better we can help prepare our students to be successful. Bottom line, the assessment is an assessment; it’s not the end-all-be-all of student performance but will be an indicator of student readiness for college and career, and isn’t that readiness what we want for all our kids?


One thought on “Need to Know: An SBA Update

  1. Kelly D

    I’m grateful for your jumping in with both feet. Even though I lack time to do the research and investigation, I’m benefitting from it through you two. THANKS!


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