Smarter Balanced Assessments

State-Mandated Assessments

Washington State requires all districts to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments.

These online assessments are designed to measure how well students are meeting new academic standards designed to better prepare them for college, career and life.

WHO Students in grades 3 to 8 and 11 (and 10th in ELA)
WHAT Smarter Balanced (sometimes called SBAC, "ess-back")
WHEN Most taken in April and May
SUBJECTS English language arts (ELA) and math
REPLACES Measurements of Student Progress (MSPs) and High School Proficiency Exam

(HSPEs), Science MSPs continue for grades 5 and 8

REPORTING Parents will get paper score reports from the state in the fall. Tahoma will prepare preliminary score reports for parents as soon as scores are available. It is estimated that scores will be returned ~2 weeks after the student completes testing. Principals will communicate with parents on timelines for the preliminary score reports coming out to parents.

HOW IT WORKS: Assessment in two parts

Both the English language arts and math assessments are each organized into two sections:

1. Computer Adaptive Questions: Series of selected response and short answer questions, estimated to take 1.5-2 hours. This part of the assessment is computer adaptive and the difficulty adjusts based on how the student is doing. This helps to get a more precise measure of the student's knowledge and ability.

2. Performance Task: Real-world scenario requiring multiple steps (and extended writing in language arts), estimated to take 1-2 hours.

The assessment window is open from March 10 to May 29 for most students across the state. Tests are untimed and can, for the most part, be administered over multiple days. Students who are absent from testing will take part in make up testing within the testing window.

HOW TO PREPARE: Advice for families

Our curriculum is being aligned to the new standards and daily classroom instruction is the most effective preparation for our students. We want students to have the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and are able to do, we don't want an excessive amount of "test prep" going on. As access to digital tools has increased we continue to engage students in keyboarding practice. In Tahoma, students begin learning keyboarding skills in grade 1 with Type to Learn. Teachers also familiarize students with the online test format through brief training tests and some of our teachers have taken advantage of the new Smarter Balanced interim assessments to give students a look at a practice test and get a quick read on student performance.

Families may try out the practice tests at home if they'd like, and students tend to perform best when they are well fed and well rested. No additional family preparation is necessary other than a positive attitude and growth mindset.

WHAT'S NEW? Smarter Balanced requires complex thinking

Evidence: Students will not be able to simply skim-read or answer writing prompts with only personal opinion. The assessments demand close reading and evidence-based responses.

Rigor: Students will not be able to rely as much on process-of-elimination. The assessment includes some multiple choice with more than one answer as well as other demands for higher-level thinking.

Authenticity: It won't be enough to apply memorized formulas to a set of numbers out of context. Smarter Balanced asks students to apply math concepts to real-life situations, often requiring multiple steps.

Writing: Writing is now assessed at all tested grade levels, with extended writing in English language arts. Even math includes some short-answer writing.

WHAT'S NEW? Smarter Balanced is computer-based

Interactive: More than just multiple-choice, students may be asked to drag-and-drop answers, complete charts or highlight evidence.

Adaptive: Assessments conform to ability; questions become more or less challenging for each student depending on answers.

Supportive: The online platform offers supports for all students, such as built-in calculators, highlighters, etc., and more specific accommodations for students with special needs.

math drag-and-drop item

WHAT'S NEW? Scoring

Schools are expected to receive scores electronically within a month of the last assessment completed at that school, and schools will need time to distribute to families. The Smarter Balanced score reports will allow families to chart students' grade-level growth over the years. Score numbers will range from about 2,000 to 3,000, with achievement levels from 1-4. Teachers and community members helped set these levels using data from 2014 field tests involving more than 3 million students.

Smarter Balanced is different enough that scores cannot be accurately compared to those of previous state tests, but families may be tempted to compare them anyway, especially if a student's proficiency level changes. Remember that scoring shifts are normal whenever more rigorous academics and their assessments are introduced; teachers and students need time to adjust. This year's scores will be viewed as a new baseline that will help our teachers (and families) measure future growth.

And teachers and school leaders will recalibrate their expectations.

  • State officials are adjusting cut scores for graduation to maintain the current graduation rate.
  • Tahoma will adjust expectations for elementary math scores to ensure students are placed in the appropriate sixth-grade math level.

Everybody is working together to ensure that students' scores are viewed fairly as we grow into more challenging academic expectations.

PARENT INFORMATION: Families of third-graders

Smarter Balanced assessments begin in third grade, an important age for literacy development. For this reason, most third-graders with a Level 1 score (out of four levels) on the English language arts assessment will be scheduled for a teacher conference before the end of the year. Because schools need those scores early in order to make time for the state-mandated conferences, third-graders will be the first to take the English language arts assessment. In Tahoma our 3rd grade students will take the ELA assessment on April 15th and 16th.

REPORTING: Measuring growth and planning for the future

Prior assessments we have had in Washington State didn't allow us an easy way to measure year over year growth for students. The new assessments are significantly different and do allow for growth measures and to see if students are on-track to meet the college and career readiness standard. For more information and a glimpse into the work from Ready Washington and how the reports might be useful to students and families see their graphic. Ready WA graphic

COLLEGE AND CAREER LINKS: Families of high school students

The state requires that districts administer the Smarter Balanced assessments to high school juniors. For now, most 11th-graders' scores will not be used for graduation, though state colleges have agreed to waive testing for remedial courses for students who earn a level 3 or 4 on the assessment.

The state also requires districts to administer ONLY the English language arts assessment to current 10th-graders as a graduation requirement. Math and biology end-of-course exams will continue as graduation requirements in those subject areas, but English language arts will shift to Smarter Balanced.

Your student's counselor can provide more information, and you may click to view our graduation test chart, organized by grad year.

chart with SBAC testing info for classes 2015-2019

Refusal to participate in state testing

In Tahoma, we have had very few families refuse to participate in state testing. Families who refuse to allow their children to participate in assessments, including Smarter Balanced, must submit the district refusal form annually in writing, signed and dated, to go in the student's permanent record file. We ask all our principals to talk personally with any parent requesting to refuse testing for their child. There is a significant amount of misinformation and information that is unique to particular states or testing situations being generalized in the media. We want to be sure our parents are basing their decision on accurate information about testing in Tahoma.

Refusal forms are submitted to the school principal. Here are consequences around refusals:

  • Students who do not participate will receive a "zero" score on the assessment and no score report for teachers or families to view.
  • A zero is factored into the overall testing scores, thus not giving an accurate measure of the individual school and district results.
  • Teachers will not receive results that could be used as a tool to measure the student's academic growth.
  • Families will not receive results that will enable them to chart the student's growth over time.
  • High school juniors without assessment results will not be eligible for the remedial testing waiver offered by state colleges (see above).
  • Students who do not participate will receive supervision but not instruction during assessment time.
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