Monday, December 22, 2014

Preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment

All year long, we have been learning various skills on how to be stronger readers and writers. In the beginning of the year, we also introduced the Smarter Balanced Assessment and began preparing students for what it is, how it's organized, and how to do well on it. These are the charts my students and I co-constructed in September as I taught them about the Smarter Balanced Assessment. 

In addition to explaining about the assessment, we also broke apart a sample Smarter Balanced performance task. We used highlighters and annotation to really help students understand all the parts that make up a performance task.

These were the focus areas and descriptors that we pointed out to students as we helped them understand the assessment. There are a LOT of directions, so we wanted to point out how much information is IN those directions and why it's so very important not to skim/skip over them!

We also brainstormed good test-taking strategies. Each strategy was added to this chart. You can see how each mini-lesson focused on a different strategy to help students be successful on the performance task.

In September, we had students take a sample Smarter Balanced performance task and as a school we collected baseline data to assess areas/Common Core standards where we needed to focus our instruction to help students increase their achievement. This data was also our baseline data for our School Learning Objective. In January, our students will be taking a second practice Smarter Balanced Assessment. We will compare the data to our beginning of the year data to see where students are making gains and where to continue to focus our instruction. The good news is that many of the Common Core English Language Arts standards overlap with ones students need to apply on the assessment. Our curriculum is directly related to the skills students are being assessed on and it continues to help them feel more comfortable with such a strange, new assessment!

Last week, I reviewed the performance task charts we created at the beginning of the year. To help prepare students for the mid-year Smarter Balanced Performance Task, I had students read a sample performance task and identify the topic, audience, purpose, and format of the task. The performance task asked students to read several sources about various winter holidays. Two of the sources they had to read were online articles. Student received a note-taking sheet to help them organize their notes.
Here is one student's notes sheet after having read the performance task and the first online article about Hanukkah.

We also had them practice the split screen feature to help become familiar with how the real Smarter Balanced Assessment will be organized on a computer. Text on the left - questions on the right.
Students problem solved with the best ways to take notes. We provide graphic organizers for students' beginning-of-the-year and mid-year practice tests so students can easily create something similar on their own when it comes time for students to take the real Smarter Balanced Assessment in May. On that assessment, students will only get scratch paper or an electronic notepad called "Global Notes".

Here's another look at the split screen feature with questions on one side and a source on the other. Two scroll bars enable students to scroll through two different documents on one screen.
Common Core stresses the importance of students knowing how to 'read' various kinds of texts. This includes being able to listen/watch a video clip to gather information. Two of the sources for my students' performance task on various winter holidays were videos. We discussed the best ways to take notes from a video clip - mentioning how important it is to pause and re-listen to parts that may seem important to the task. This is similar to what students will likely be asked to do on the real Smarter Balanced Assessment in May.
Here is one of my students completed graphic organizers. At the top, you can see she identified the topic, the audience, the purpose, and the format that was laid out in the performance task itself. She also identified that the task asked her to take notes on the symbols, traditions, and cultural beliefs of the four winter holidays discussed in each of the sources. She also recorded the source titles which will enable her to correctly cite her sources when she drafts her longer explanatory speech later in Part 2 of the performance task.
When we return from break, I will help students use their notes to answer short answer questions and draft their informative/explanatory speech as is outlined in the performance task.

Happy holidays, everyone!


  1. Thanks! I've been thinking about how to better prepare my students for the Smarter Balanced assessment. This was so helpful. Have a great holiday.
    Laughter and Consistency

  2. Jan - I'm so glad this blog post helped you! Our school has worked so hard to prepare students in real-world reading and writing skills so that they will feel as comfortable and as confident as possible taking the Smarter Balanced test. The format alone is a whole new ball game!

  3. Hi,
    Did anyone in your math department use this approach. I am going to try it in my Math 2 and Math 3 classes.

  4. Would it be possible to get the template copies and article links for use in my class?

  5. Would it be possible to get the template copies and article links for use in my class?