Monday, March 31, 2014

Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Wondering what Smarter Balanced is?

It sounds like margarine, right?

It's not. It's a test. It's the test that is supposed to replace the MEAP test (but be given in the spring, and on computers). And it's supposed to be "Common Core aligned." And it's going to be longer than the MEAP. [It's state-mandated. So whatever school district or charter school you are in, this test should be of interest to you.]

But hey, it's got a logo that looks like it belongs to a forestry group.

Read the web page here.

According to this fact sheet by Fair Test, "Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15."

In Michigan, we will be using Smarter Balanced.
Here's a nice article on how the Smarter Balanced test is going to fund for-profit corporations. (OK, really--not so "nice." But it's worth paying attention to this!)

As Fair Test points out,
Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).
Oh yeah, and also? It's a computer-based test which means it is going to hog up the school computers. I sure am glad I voted for that technology millage...

Curious about the test? You should be. Take a sample of the test here. [Just log in as a "guest."]

And then? Please share your observations about the test sample in the comments section.

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  1. It should also be mentioned that all short writing sections will be scored by computer.

  2. I find just the pre-test screens where you choose your settings confusing enough. Are the students going to have to go through those? Anyhow, I'd earlier tried a sample test for 12th graders and found it incredibly difficult so I decided this time to try it at a 6th grade level. Still very difficult, both in terms of content and using the system. At one point I was supposed to type in an equation to represent how I would solve a problem. I had difficulty figuring out how to enter it correctly, e.g. I had to enter a superscript and then once I entered it I couldn't figure out how to stop being in superscript. You had to enter an answer before you could move on to the next one, which I found very frustrating.

    I'm also finding mistakes in the questions. For instance, I'm looking at a question right now which says two people are delivering newspapers; in the first hour one delivers 8 newspapers and the 2nd delivers 15. They continue to deliver newspapers at the same rate for the next two hours. You are asked to complete the table showing how many newspapers each person delivers during the 2nd and 3rd hours. Part of the table is completed for you, For hour 1 it shows Person 1 delivering 8 papers For hour 2 it shows Person 1 delivering 16 papers. But Person 1 didn't deliver 16 papers in hour 2. She delivered 8 more which totals 16 for the two hours. But that's not what the question asks. It says "Complete the table to show how many newspapers each delivers during the second and third hours." The number for the third hour is left blank. I'm pretty sure the test thinks the correct number is 24, but it's not; so do I answer what I know is the correct answer or what is going to be graded as correct? Oh, and by the way, Person 1 has a traditionally girl's name and delivers 1/2 as many newspapers as Person 2 with a traditionally boy's name.

  3. I didn't pay much attention to the pre-test screens, hoping students wouldn't be filling them in.

    I did an 8th grade math test (since I have an 8th grader at home). Looks like Kathleen and I experienced similar problems - I had the same reaction to the newspaper delivery (it should be 8 & 15 in each box, unless they ask for the TOTAL by the end of the hour). And their equation editor was very poorly designed - I couldn't figure out how to get nested parentheses (e.g. ((5+8) / 2) * 10 ). Weak interface.

    Then I wondered, would I have some kind of scratch paper to write down my work? Because I wanted to keep track of various intermediate values, and a calculator with just one stored value wasn't going to cut it. (I gather 8th graders learn how to use scientific calculators?)

    And ugh, taking it with a laptop and trackpad was a bad experience.

    Since I was taking it as a guest, I thought I would get feedback at the end. I want to know, for example, what they are expecting for the newspaper delivery, and whether or not my equation with only one set of parentheses is correct!

  4. Eighth graders learn to use graphing calculators. I don't know if they can use them during the tests. I will try to find out.

  5. How are we supposed to track our kids longitudinally if they keep changing assessments all the time? This is ridiculous.

  6. I believe that AAPS is one of the pilot districts next month when 11th graders will take the Smarter Balanced assessment over the course of a few days. Sigh...even more testing for this 11th grade class.

  7. What incentive do the kids have to actually try on testing like this? Why would any kid want to spend a day taking this test?

  8. Topher, you are correct--I hope to have a post about that up over the weekend.

    Maria, this test is quite high stakes for the district. It's not so high stakes for the students so I think the district is going to have to convince students that it is important for them to try on it. I know I wouldn't be interested in it...

  9. I heard that's there's kids deliberately throwing the tests...I can't blame them either.

  10. I took both the 9th grade Math and ELA sample tests with magnification and there were some complications. It is similar to the online courses we have been looking at for 9th grade Geometry.

    Here are my comments after taking both sample tests:

    1. Text-to-Speech did not seem to work with Google Chrome or Safari web browsers. What "secure" web browsers do work with the test?

    2. Zoom IN and OUT magnification features are inconsistent and limited to about a 28pt size. Does work in combination with Mac magnification features. The Zoom IN and OUT feature does not work with the tutorials.The Calculator does not Zoom In or Out, but you can still magnify it with mac magnification feature. Also, the Zoom resets for each new problem- time consuming to have to continually Zoom In on every problem. I found it very difficult to scroll on the page when it was Zoomed In, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.

    3. Math equation editor is inconsistent. I found it confusing that sometimes you are expected to use your keyboard to type in numbers and symbols and other times you are expected to click on the numbers and symbols they provide you.

    4. Click and Drag feature in the math section (timeline where you click car and drag it to line up on the timeline) is very tricky with limited vision as are some of the graphing features (add a point, click and drag a line on a graph, etc.)

    5. Tutorials- The tutorials were time consuming and a bit confusing. They are videos but I was unable to hear the audio. The print was tiny in sections and the Zoom In feature did not work. Will kids be given practice on using the online tools and instructions prior to taking the test?


    1. Great questions. I will pass them on to the IT staff and see what they say