Answering the Question: "What are the Smarter Balanced Online Math Assessments?"

Posted by Zack Blois on Mar 18, 2015 2:05:00 PM
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Screen_Shot_2013-11-18_at_9.50.24_AMLast week, we posted a quick primer for the PARCC online math assessments. This week we wanted to round out the two online Common Core-aligned testing consortia by offering a basic profile of the Smarter Balanced online math assessments.

Overview of Smarter Balanced

Much like PARCC's online assessments, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is developing Common Core State Standards-aligned math assessments for grades 3-8 and 11. Per the SBAC, the online math assessments are designed to measure "college and career readiness" in math through intelligent application of computer adaptive technology and advanced fundamental principles.

Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, the assessments will include summative mathematics assessments for accountability and interim mathematics tests to aid instructional application. Both the summative and formative assessments claim to provide meaningful feedback and actionable progress data that teachers and other educators can use to help students succeed.

The SBAC tests seek to encourage students to demonstrate problem-solving skills via performance tasks and extended response exercises. Because the tests have the luxury of technology-enhanced features, its programmatic elements offer collections of questions and activities that cohere to a single theme or scenario, including a focus on depth of understanding, writing and research skills, and/or complex analysis.

Online Format

The Smarter Balanced online assessments utilize computer adaptive testing (CAT)*. If you've taken the GMAT or GRE, then you have taken a computer adaptive test.

Per SBAC, CAT-based tests:

  • adjust question difficulty throughout the assessment, according to student performance
  • require less time and fewer questions to gauge achievement level accurately
  • draw from a larger bank of questions, lessening the number (and cost) of test revisions and rewrites

As students receive varied interactions and questions based on their responses, test items are more secure and can be used over a longer period of time -- i.e. tests will not need to be rewritten from year-to-year because students will only be exposed to a portion of the available questions/prompts.

It's important to acknowledge the fact that these tests differ significantly from the traditional pencil-and-paper test formats. Students will be required to sit and focus in front of a computer or tablet for long periods of time. This means instilling online testing familiarity will be key.

*Currently, Smarter Balanced is the only CCSS-aligned assessment consortium utilizing CAT (PARCC does not).

Summative and formative online math assessments

Smarter Balanced's components include summative and formative online assessments.

The summative assessments seek to:

  • Describe achievement and growth of math learning for program evaluation and accountability.
  • Measure attainment of college- and career-ready knowledge and skills.

The optional interim assessments administered at locally-determined intervals seek to:  

  • Help teachers, students, and parents understand whether students are on track, identifying strengths and limitations relative to the Common Core State Standards.
  • Support the development of state end-of-course tests.

These online tests provide educators with actionable information about student progress throughout the year, being fully accessible for instruction and professional development. Like the summative tests, interim assessments are computer adaptive and include in-depth performance tasks.


Per SBAC, cutting-edge principles are applied through the online math assessments to deliver on CCSS math claims above. The system ensures the assessments:

  1. Involve standards-based curriculum managed as part of an integrated system of standards, curriculum, assessment, instruction, and teacher development.  
  2. Include evidence of student performance on challenging tasks related to 21st-century learning.
  3. Involve teachers integrally involved in development and scoring.  
  4. Provide useful information on multiple measures that are educative for all stakeholders.

Most importantly, the Smarter Balanced online math assessments are to be structured for continuous improvement


As I mentioned before, SBAC-adopting states will begin administering the online tests during the 2014-2015 school year. Additionally, a pilot test was administered in more than 5,000 schools within the SBAC-network between February 20, 2013 and May 24, 2013. 

You can learn more about the Spring 2013 pilot tests in this June 2013 Education Week article:

The SBAC offers online Smarter Balanced practice tests. You, and your students, can access these sample and practice tests at:

Share your Smarter Balanced experiences and opinions!

Okay, so you have a basic understanding of the SBAC online math tets. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The true story will be told within the walls of the school and classroom.

We'd love to hear your questions about online assessment implementation and about the impact (positive or negative) you believe it will have on your classroom.

Comment below, find us on Facebook to share your concerns, or tweet us at @Wowzers to begin the conversation!


Is your school ready for the Smarter Balanced online math assessments?

Sign up for the FREE Smarter Balanced Pilot from Wowzers Online Math! 

Smarter Balanced Pilot

Topics: Common Core Assessments

Wowzers is a comprehensive online math program covering all Common Core State Standards for grades K-8. The research-based program adapts to each learner and allows for an individualized path through the curriculum. Content is presented in multiple ways, and appeals to tactile, auditory, and visual learners. Assessments mirror those found on high-stakes achievement tests and provide teachers and administrators with the information that they need to personalize learning for each student.

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