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SD Department of Education January 2015  

Smarter Balanced Q & A answers questions about testing

This article provides answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding this year’s Smarter Balanced assessment.

Where can I find more information about this year’s Smarter Balanced assessment?
South Dakota’s new Smarter Balanced portal, which is now live at http://sd.portal.airast.org/, will be used for all aspects of administering the Smarter Balanced assessment this year and in years to come. At this point, the secure browsers and associated technical manuals are available, along with some frequently asked questions and training modules, on topics such as computer adaptive testing (CAT), performance tasks and the Online Reporting System. More documents and resources are being added as they become available.

The portal has resources for students and families, test administrators, test coordinators and technology coordinators.

District assessment coordinators will soon have access to the Test Information Distribution Engine (TIDE), where student information, rosters and user accounts are managed. Voice packs for text-to-speech accommodations are also accessible through TIDE. Please note this TIDE is new, and is not the one used for last year’s Field Test. Districts can no longer access the TIDE that was used last year.

South Dakota has access to its own dedicated Smarter Balanced Help Desk, available through the test vendor. It is already staffed from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. CST.

Will there be an assessment roadshow this year?
No. Instead of a roadshow covering all tests in one day, there will be a series of webinars for ACCESS, Dakota STEP Science, NCSC and Smarter Balanced. More information on dates, times and links will be coming soon. The webinars will be recorded and archived here.

When will the Smarter Balanced assessment be administered?
South Dakota’s Smarter Balanced testing window is March 10-May 15 for grades 3-8, and March 30-May 15 for grade 11. Districts should already have communicated with the South Dakota Department of Education about when they plan to administer the assessment within those windows. If your district has not done so, please contact Jan Martin with this information.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, of which South Dakota is a member, determined that in order to be able to compare test results between states, especially in grade 11, it is necessary for students to have completed 80% of the school year before being assessed.

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

How long does it take for students to complete the test?
For scheduling purposes, it’s recommended that districts plan a minimum of five days per grade level. Students need breaks and to do too much testing in a single day is not best practice.

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

The test is untimed and designed to be administered in multiple sessions. Content tests should be administered in a minimum of two class periods for each subject. Performance tasks are introduced with a classroom activity that must be completed prior to students finishing the performance task online. The math performance task is designed to be completed in one session but more sessions can be scheduled. The ELA performance task is set up in two parts, and it’s recommended that two sessions be scheduled.

Are practice tests available?
Yes. Administrators, teachers, students and parents are strongly encouraged to try the practice tests, which are now available via South Dakota’s Smarter Balanced portal.

The practice tests demonstrate two important aspects of the 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

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. In addition, Chromebooks will be supported. For more information on the secure browsers, go to http://sd.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 were achievement levels set for the assessment?
Achievement level cut scores (1, 2, 3, 4) for the assessment have been approved by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The South Dakota Board of Education will vote on adoption of these achievement level cut scores at its next meeting on Jan. 15.

In the processes leading up to consortium approval, South Dakota had almost 70 individuals who participated in online achievement level setting, and 10 who participated in the face-to-face process. Click here for a video explaining the process.

The current achievement level cut scores are estimates based on field test data. Achievement level descriptors do not equate directly to expectations for “on-grade” performance, but to the range of performance within a grade level.

How well are students expected to perform on the assessment this year?
Initially, more students will likely score in the Level 1 and 2 ranges than in the Level 3 and 4 ranges. Long-term, though, it’s expected South Dakota students will adjust to the higher expectations, and more students will score in Levels 3 and 4.

Scores in the higher ranges (Levels 3 and 4) demonstrate not only more thorough understanding of the standards, but the ability to apply knowledge. Scoring at these levels indicates students are on track to be college and career ready.

It’s important not to make comparisons with the Dakota STEP, as the Smarter Balanced assessment measures student proficiency against a new set of standards. The new assessment sets a new baseline. The expectation is that proficiency on the Smarter Balanced assessment will look different than it did with the Dakota STEP.

It’s also important to note that the South Dakota Board of Regents plans to use 11th grade Smarter Balanced scores for placement guidelines in the future. So, if a student reaches a certain level (to be determined) on Smarter Balanced, that student can go directly into credit-bearing college-level courses. This will make the state assessment more meaningful to high school students.

Why is this test considered an improvement upon previous statewide assessments?
The Smarter Balanced assessment is a computer adaptive test (CAT). 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 by providing more accurate scores for all students across the full range of the achievement continuum.

Where will districts be able to access assessment results?
Districts will be able to access assessment results via the Online Reporting System in South Dakota’s Smarter Balanced portal.

When can districts expect to see assessment results?
Once a test is submitted, a student’s results will be available within two weeks through the Online Reporting System. The reporting system will go live once the testing window opens. A district should be able to see all of its assessment results by early June.

When will districts be able to share assessment results with parents?
Districts should be able to share assessment results with parents at the same time end-of-year report cards are sent home.

Are there resources available to help administrators communicate about the assessment with parents and other community stakeholders?
Resources for communicating with parents and other community stakeholders are available here. Items are being added to this page regularly.

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

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