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Smarter Balanced Assessment: Are We Adequately Prepared?

Smarter Balanced Assessment: Are We Adequately Prepared?

AWSP Board Member and ESPAW President Lisa Pacheco reflects on the importance of preparing staff and students for the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Below are some thoughts on her experience at Ridgeview Elementary in Spokane, and how you might be able to apply what she learned to your own experiences.


Lisa A. Pacheco
Principal, Ridgeview Elementary
Spokane PS

As states and districts prepare teachers and students for the implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, cognizance regarding the need for more than just academic preparedness is paramount. The Smarter Balanced Assessments will be used to measure students’ ability to meet adequate growth with regard to their grade-specific Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although educators need to be responsive to the academic challenges that the new Smarter Balanced Assessment will evaluate, equally important is the need to adequately prepare staff and students for the technological aptitude required to successfully complete the assessment. 

Challenging Questions

Recently, the principal cadre in my district engaged in a professional development session which included previewing the released mathematics portion of the Smarter Balance Assessment at various grade levels. Most of the adults found the test questions to be extremely challenging. However, equally difficult was utilizing the technological tools necessary to answer each question. This task proved to be eye opening as it provided an awareness that was not at the forefront of peoples’ minds. That is, we must be intentional about teaching students how and when to use the technology resources effectively. 

Planning Ahead

In order for students to be successful on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, they must know how to operate the assessment tools provided in each section of the test. Although students may be technologically savvy and possess the skills necessary to navigate the tools readily, many will still require specific instruction and several opportunities to practice using the tools in order to do so with precision. Visiting the computer lab once or twice before the assessment will not give students enough exposure to these resources. Students must be given multiple opportunities to engage in problem solving activities that allow them to utilize the tools successfully. 

Teachers Should be Trained, Too

However, before engaging students in these practice sessions, it is crucial that teachers acquire the skills to use these devices with the utmost accuracy. Educators should not assume they will be able to do so without preparation. Thus, I would strongly recommend that teachers complete the training assessment and the released practice tests in each content area to note the resources available and their purpose within each discipline.

Additional Practice

The training assessment provides an introduction for students to the online tools. The practice tests allow students to solve released test questions taken from previous Smarter Balanced Assessments. The training and practice tests can be accessed via the WA Comprehensive Assessment Plan Portal.  

In addition to the released test items, there are various online tools available for student to access and use outside of the training/practice sessions. Some of the most beneficial devices are the online calculators for middle and high school students.

Maintaining Focus

During testing, the students’ cognitive demand should be focused on the content of the test, not on how to operate the assessment tools. Affording students the knowledge and skillset needed to utilize the online resources and several opportunities to practice using the tools will likely increase their technological aptitude, confidence, and propensity for success.