Smarter Balanced States: Get Ready for Computer-Adaptive Testing

Posted by Zack Blois on Mar 6, 2013 12:43:00 PM
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If you are an educator in one of the Smarter Balanced-Governing States, you may be hearing the term Computer-Adaptive Testing (CAT) thrown around quite a bit lately.

To best prepare for the coming adaptive Common Core assessments, schools and educators must have a sound understanding of how the tests function, what challenges CAT presents, and what they must do to optimize the benefits and advantages.

What is Computer-Adaptive Testing and what does it mean for my students?

standardized testing Computer-Adaptive Testing, most commonly associated with the GRE exam and the Smarter Balanced Assessments, is derived from a massive bank of digital questions and prompts. The student takes the exam on a computer or electronic device, and his or her test path is determined by the success rate. If the student is doing well, the digital test uses an algorithm to adjust the difficulty and provide subsequent harder questions. If he or she is struggling, the test will once again adjust and pull less-difficult questions from its bank. 

The knock on traditional pencil-and-paper tests is that they are typically geared to assess the mean or middle student, leaving out the peripheral students requiring remediation or acceleration. CAT’s adaptive ability claims to remedy this problem by challenging each and every student while eliminating the disengagement brought on by overly-difficult or trivial questions/prompts.

Don’t get caught off your feet by Smarter Balanced’s CAT assessments

Be aware, Smarter Balanced’s CAT features require students to spend a substantial amount of time in front of a computer. Additionally, a recent UCLA study reports Smarter Balanced does, in fact, assess ‘deeper understanding’ and higher-order thinking ability

These notions may present doubt or apprehension in educators, but with the proper preparation and familiarity, schools can set themselves and their students up for success:

  • Meet the Minimum Tech Requirements
    Don’t let technology shortfalls inhibit your student’s CAT assessment experience. Here’s a couple great resources to help you find the needed information.
    Common-Core Tech Requirements Outlined -
    Technology Requirements -
  • Provide Content and Resources that ‘Mirror’ CAT Assessments
    Familiarize your students with digital content and resources that offer adaptive interactive questions, prompts, and activities. Also, be sure students practice longer testing sessions at computers prior to the Smarter Balanced assessments.
  • Promote Higher-Order Thinking and ‘Deeper Understanding’
    Per Smarter Balanced and CCSS, students must demonstrate higher-order thinking skills to prove their ‘college-readiness’. This means teachers must also provide students with the examples and skills needed to prepare for the post K-12 world. .
  • Share and Utilize Digital Data to Improve Learning
    The digital analytical data available from CAT pre-tests and results will be abundant. Utilize the quicker, more effective data on a school-wide level to better prescribe the needed reinforcement and differentiation for each of your students.

How do Smarter Balanced’s CAT features improve learning?

Now that you have some tips to help get ready for Smarter Balanced's CAT features, let's take a look at the advantages it will present for your students' learning and your school's efficiency.

  • More Precise Assessment of Mastery and Understanding
    CAT is able to give a better reading of a student’s learning level because students receive more questions in-line with their skill and understanding level. The focus is moved towards the student’s success and mastery level and away from the percentage of correct responses.
  • Immediate Results and Shorter Test Periods
    CAT requires students to complete less responses because the questions and prompts are adapted to the test taker’s success level. Also, CAT is administered and graded digitally, so the results are returned much quicker. This allows teachers to implement the needed curriculum and instruction updates faster and more efficiently.
  • More Secure and Longer ‘Shelf Life’
    Students cannot ‘share notes’ on the playground or look over a classmate's shoulder for answers because they most likely didn’t have same questions. Additionally, CAT questions and prompts do not need to be rewritten year-to-year like paper-and-pencil tests because of the high variance levels.
Currently, Smarter Balanced is the only Common Core assessment consortium utilizing Computer-Adaptive Testing. However, because CAT is at the cutting-edge of assessment technology, it could be feasible for PARCC and other assessments move towards adaptive features in the future.

Want more info about the Common Core tests? Download our free online booklet, "Mastering the Common Core Digital Math Assessments" today!

Also, be sure to attend our CCSS Math Assessment Prep Webinar:

More Common Core Assessment Articles:

Common Core Assessment Debuts Online Practice Tests

PARCC Assessments Announce Read-aloud Accommodations

Preparing for the Common Core Digital Assessments

Do PARCC and Smarter Balanced truly assess 'deeper understanding'?

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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