The Intersection

A Milestone on the Road to Next-Generation Assessments

November 19, 2012


We are at an exciting time in the development of the Smarter Balanced assessment system. After extensive collaboration with educators and content experts, the Consortium released a set of sample items and performance tasks in early October. This release provides an advance look at the rigor and complexity of the English language arts/literacy and mathematics questions that will appear on the assessments in the 2014-15 school year. With more than 100,000 unique visitors to the Smarter Balanced website in just the first few weeks, it is clear that this has been a highly anticipated release for educators and stakeholders.

We hope that the sample items and tasks will also help teachers prepare for the shifts in instruction required by the Common Core State Standards. Each item has detailed information about the standards and assessment targets being measured. Select English language arts/literacy items include a text complexity analysis that explains how quantitative and qualitative factors were evaluated to determine the appropriate grade level of a passage. In mathematics, several items across the grades demonstrate how students are expected to apply more sophisticated mathematical concepts as they progress through school.

In addition, most of the selected-response and technology-enhanced items can be automatically scored, which means that users can interact with the items and discover if they have solved the question correctly.  Scoring rubrics are also available for constructed-response items and performance tasks that are not automatically scored.

The items also demonstrate how technology can be used to measure problem solving skills in ways that paper-and-pencil assessments never could. For example, “Water Tank” is a high school mathematics item that asks students to calculate the radius of a cylinder by manipulating liquid between two containers. Students can experiment with different quantities in each container to determine the relationship between the two volumes. This kind of interactivity is only possible through a computer-based test.

It’s important to note that the sample items and tasks represent just a fraction of the several thousand items that will be available when pilot testing of the assessment system begins in February 2013. In addition, the Smarter Balanced sample items are displayed in a simulated test platform that does not include accessibility tools and accommodations options that will be available through the assessment system.

I invite you to explore the sample items and performance tasks—and learn more about how they were developed—on our website. We also want to know what you think. Visitors can submit feedback that will help guide our efforts to develop high-quality items and tasks for the assessment system.

Joe Willhoft, Ph.D. is the executive director for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Prior to joining Smarter Balanced, he was assistant superintendent for assessment and student information for Washington state.

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