Jan Martin, with the department’s Division of Assessment and Accountability, talks about this spring’s Field Test of the Smarter Balanced assessment

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Smarter Balanced Q & A answers questions about testing

This article provides answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the new Smarter Balanced assessment.

When will the Smarter Balanced Field Test be administered?
South Dakota’s Smarter Balanced testing window is March 18-May 16. Districts are encouraged to complete testing by the end of April, but each school is free to determine what testing schedule, within that timeframe, will work best for them.

When will districts be receiving more information on testing?
Detailed information on administration times, scheduling sessions and more will be distributed to all districts after Jan. 10, when it is scheduled to become available from the consortium.

In addition, Smarter Balanced will make available approximately 10 web-based training modules by the end of January. These modules will include topics such as:

• Introduction to the Field Test (geared toward students)
• What is a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT)?
• Performance Tasks
• Test Administrator Training
• Administrator Interface
• Student Interface
• Accommodations
• Tools for Student Use
• Technology Requirements

What are students being tested on?
The Smarter Balanced assessment is aligned to the Common Core standards. It is not specifically aligned to any textbook or other curricular resource.

How long does it take for students to complete the test?
It is estimated that students will need about eight hours to complete the entire assessment, but it is important to note that the test is not timed. There are four main components to the test:

1) Math (content)
2) Math performance task
3) English language arts (content)
4) English language arts performance task

More information on testing times and scheduling testing sessions will be available after Jan. 10.

Is Smarter Balanced simply a multiple choice test administered online?
No. The Smarter Balanced assessment will ask students to do much more than answer multiple choice questions. Test items include technology-enhanced items and constructed response items in addition to multiple choice items. That is why administrators, teachers, students and parents are strongly encouraged to try the practice tests available at http://www.smarterbalanced.org/pilot-test/.

The practice tests demonstrate two important aspects of the new assessment:

1) The kinds of tasks students will need to perform during testing
2) The types of questions and the cognitive demand that will be expected of students

How can schools prepare students for this new kind of test?
Many schools are putting more thought into how technology and higher order questioning are being used in classrooms to help ensure that students are ready for new assessments. Once students have had the opportunity to take a practice test, teachers may want to think more about how they incorporate the use of these item types into their classroom instruction. Teachers may want to display practice items in class and discuss with students how to respond to the questions.

What basic technology is needed to administer the test?
Both Windows (XP and above) and Mac operating systems (OS 10. 5 and higher) are supported with secure browsers developed for the different operating systems.

Apple iPads, versions 2 and 3 with OS 6 and 7 can be used. iPad minis are not supported. Android tablets such as Google Nexus 10, Motorola Xoom, Motorola Xyboard, Samsung Galaxy Note (10.1) and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) can be used for the field test. In addition, Chromebooks will be supported. For more information on the secure browsers, go to http://sbac.portal.airast.org//browsers/.

Students will need headphones for the listening section and they will need to use some type of pointing device (mouse, touchpad, stylus) in order to navigate and respond to items. If students are using tablets, external keyboards will be useful but not mandatory.

How well are students expected to perform on the assessment this year?
There will be frustration with the rollout of a new assessment, but that is why South Dakota has chosen to participate in the Field Test. This “test of the test” is an opportunity for administrators, teachers, students and parents to become familiar with these new expectations. No student scores will be reported this spring, and school accountability scores will not be affected for the coming school year.

Any time there is a move to new standards and a new assessment, a new baseline must be established. It is not fair or valid to compare performance on the Dakota STEP to performance on the Smarter Balanced assessment. The expectation is that proficiency on the Smarter Balanced assessment will look different than it did with the Dakota STEP.

Why is this test considered an improvement upon previous statewide assessments?
In spring 2015, the Smarter Balanced assessment will be fully adaptive. This means that based on student responses, the computer program will adjust the difficulty of questions throughout the assessment. For example, a student who answers a question correctly will receive a more challenging item, while an incorrect answer generates an easier question.

By adapting to the student as the assessment is taking place, these assessments present an individually tailored set of questions to each student and can quickly identify which skills students have mastered. This approach represents a significant improvement over traditional paper-and-pencil assessments used in many states today, providing more accurate scores for all students across the full range of the achievement continuum.

Why won’t the test be fully adaptive in spring 2014?
To create an adaptive test, each test item must have an established difficulty value. The Field Test students take this spring will provide the statistics necessary to establish those item-level difficulty values. Toward the end of the Field Test administration window, Smarter Balanced will begin testing the adaptive engine, and some students may receive questions selected adaptively based on their responses.

Where can I find more information about the Field Test?
The Smarter Balanced website now has a page dedicated to Field Test information.

Did you know?
More than 100 South Dakota educators have served on Smarter Balanced work groups and helped develop things like test items and achievement level descriptors.

For more information, contact Jan Martin, South Dakota Department of Education, at (605) 773-3246.