SBAC Weekly Q & A

Every week the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) sends an SBAC Weekly Update to all the states in the Consortium. Each update includes a question related to the assessment system sent by a member state and answered by Joe Wilhoft, SBAC’s executive director. The Department of Education will post each weekly question and answer with most recent at the top.

Does a shared assessment system require a shared or common curriculum?

posted Dec 17, 2012, 5:38 AM by Lucille Chicoine

No. We believe that curriculum decisions are best made by educators at the local and state levels. States participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will have access to professional development materials and instructional resources for teachers through a digital library. These tools are optional and can be used, as needed, to complement state curriculum supports to districts and teachers.

Why are the blueprints for the summative assessments of mathematics and English language arts/literacy for grades 3–8 and high school referred to as “preliminary”?

posted Dec 10, 2012, 5:49 AM by Lucille Chicoine

These blueprints are referred to as “preliminary” because they establish assessment design features that may be subject to refinement and revision after the analysis of Pilot and Field testing. Final blueprints for the Smarter Balanced summative assessments will be adopted by Governing States prior to full implementation in the 2014-15 school year. 

How did Smarter Balanced determine the minimum technology specifications?

posted Dec 3, 2012, 8:23 AM by Lucille Chicoine

The Technology Approach Work Group collaborated with member states, as well as Navigation North, American Institutes for Research, Measured Progress, and Pearson to analyze the memory and processor load that the test delivery engine will require; the bandwidth necessary to transmit stimulus materials and items to students; and the data submitted by Smarter Balanced schools and districts through the Technology Readiness Tool. These analyses identified the minimum technology necessary to assess the full depth and breadth of the Common Core State Standards in a next-generation assessment.

Will high school students have the option to test earlier than grade 11?

posted Nov 13, 2012, 7:14 AM by Lucille Chicoine

Through the optional interim assessments, teachers will have the ability to administer a comprehensive interim assessment that mirrors the content of the summative assessment, or to select one or more content clusters to assess specific elements of the grade-level Common Core State Standards for students in 9th and 10th grade. In addition, Smarter Balanced will develop an end-of-course test-builder, using the interim item bank, for states that wish to administer high school end-of-course assessments. The design characteristics of the interim assessment for grades 9 and 10 are still being developed and reviewed by member states.

When will Smarter Balanced release minimum technology requirements for the assessment system?

posted Nov 5, 2012, 5:07 AM by Lucille Chicoine

Smarter Balanced is developing a Technology Strategy Framework & System Requirements Specifications document that will be released later this fall. The requirements are informed by the results of the first data collection through the Technology Readiness Tool, as well as ongoing work with our test delivery system contractor. States will soon be able to use the Technology Readiness Tool to conduct a gap analysis comparing existing resources to requirements for administering the assessment system in the 2014-15 school year.

Why are some of the English language arts/literacy sample items and tasks missing a reading passage?

posted Oct 29, 2012, 5:14 AM by Lucille Chicoine

The sample English language arts/literacy items and performance tasks include a mixture of published and commissioned reading passages and sources. Smarter Balanced has not obtained permission to reprint copyrighted passages and source documents referenced in the sample items. As a result, several sample items and performance tasks—Planes on the Brain 1–3, Animal Defenses, and Garden—include only the citations for copyrighted material, rather than the complete text. For the operational assessment in the 2014-15 school year, Smarter Balanced intends to use primarily published passages—reflecting the emphasis in the Common Core on exposure to “high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts”—and the full text of these passages will be available to students.

Will the Smarter Balanced content specifications be updated?

posted Oct 22, 2012, 5:15 AM by Lucille Chicoine

Earlier this year, Smarter Balanced Governing States approved content claims in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. The claims are the central, organizing themes of the content specifications, and can be found in those documents. The purpose of the content specifications was to analyze the Common Core State Standards through an assessment lens, to make declarations about what the Smarter Balanced assessments will say about student achievement, and to describe the kinds of evidence we will look for as manifestations of that achievement.

The Smarter Balanced item/task specifications—which define the characteristics of items and tasks that will appear on the Smarter Balanced assessments—were based on the content specifications. Our service providers are using the item/task specifications to write items and tasks for the Pilot Test that will occur this spring. We have encouraged item writers to make note of ways to strengthen and clarify the item/task specifications, and they can be viewed as a somewhat dynamic set of documents that we will continue to improve.

However, the content specifications, being the basis for the item/task specifications, will remain in their current form through the development of the 2014-15 assessment. Once we complete our first or second year of implementation, it may be appropriate to revisit the content specifications. At that time, we will have gathered substantial information on student performance, and we should know much more about how items and tasks work in an online environment, as well as what we can expect from different scoring strategies. This new information will certainly inform the statements of the kinds of evidence we seek in our assessments.

Overviews of the current content claims are available on the Consortium’s website:

How long will it take students to complete the Smarter Balanced summative assessment?

posted Oct 15, 2012, 5:04 AM by Lucille Chicoine

The length of the summative assessment has not yet been decided. This fall, Governing States will be asked to review and approve the summative assessment design, which encompasses test length, reporting categories, and the test blueprint.

Test length is influenced by several factors, including the amount of content that the test assesses. The Common Core ELA/literacy standards cover writing and speaking and listening. This represents a much broader range of content than most statewide reading assessments cover today. Smarter Balanced will assess the depth and breadth of the Common Core to provide a richer picture of student achievement.

In addition, the summative assessment is made up of the computer adaptive test (CAT) and performance tasks that are delivered by computer but are not adaptive. Computer adaptive testing is more efficient than fixed-form tests, requiring fewer questions to produce a more accurate picture of a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Performance tasks—which may require one to two class periods to complete—will be used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items. The length of both of these components will determine the overall test length.

What are the technology requirements for viewing the Smarter Balanced sample items and tasks?

posted Oct 9, 2012, 5:49 AM by Lucille Chicoine

The sample items and performance tasks are compatible with desktop and laptop computers with the following Internet browsers:

  • Firefox 3.6 or newer
  • Internet Explorer 8 or newer
  • Chrome 18 or newer
  • Safari 4.1 or newer

In addition, Android and iPad tablets with 9.5-inch screens (10-inch class) or larger are supported with the following Internet browsers:

  • Chrome 18 or newer (Android)
  • Safari 4.1 or newer (iPad)
It is important to note that these specifications do not reflect the minimum technology requirements for the operational Smarter Balanced assessment system in the 2014-15 school year. More information on the Consortium’s new hardware purchasing guidelines is available at

What are achievement level descriptors (ALDs)?

posted Oct 1, 2012, 5:05 AM by Lucille Chicoine

Achievement level descriptors (ALDs) are text statements that articulate the knowledge, skills, and abilities represented at different categories of performance on the Smarter Balanced assessments, including the college- and career-ready category for the high school assessment. They describe how students are progressing toward mastery of the Common Core State Standards and provide clear explanations of student performance for policymakers, educators, and parents.

Smarter Balanced has developed an inclusive, collaborative process for drafting initial ALDs in collaboration with K-12 teachers and higher education faculty nominated by member states, as well as content experts. Draft ALDs will be available for feedback during a four-month comment period later this year. Preliminary ALDs are expected to be finalized by March 2013 by Governing States.

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