It's aliiiive! After months of speculation and curiosity about how the Smarter Balanced Common Core Assessments will look and function, we finally have our first public glimpse of the digital tests.
Released on May 29th, the Smarter Balanced Practice Tests offer grades 3-8 and 11 sample tests for mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy. According to Smarter Balanced's press release, the recently issued practice tests "allow teachers, students, parents, and other interested parties to experience the features of online testing and gain insight into how Smarter Balanced will assess students mastery of the Common Core."
Practice Tests provide Good Opportunities for Modeling and Practice
The Wowzers Team's initial response to the practice tests is positive, but it does come with a few caveats.
Let's start with the good news. The tests do a great job of representing and modeling each type of interaction that will be presented on the Smarter Balanced assessments, including selected response-items, constructed-response items, technology-enhanced items, and performance tasks. The thorough representation helps remove some of the surprises and skepticism directed towards these tests.
The digital functionality also runs smoothly and the instructions for each required response are written in a concise and understandable form. This ease-of-use and apparent reliability will provide students a great opportunity to familiarize themselves with the procedures and duration of Smarter Balanceds digital assessments.
Smarter Balanced Acknowledges Tests are Still a Work-in-Progress
However, in the above-mentioned press release, the Smarter Balanced folks were quick to address the fact that these practice tests are not a full representation of the Common Core-aligned assessments they plan to issue for the 2014-2015 school year.
First and foremost, the practice tests do not contain Computer-adaptive testing features. Instead, each practice test follows a fixed-form model, meaning that the test puts students on a linear set path. That's a big deal because Smarter Balanced has been preaching the advantages of their computer-adaptive features, and unfortunately we do not get a glimpse of that yet (you can read more about computer-adaptive testing here).
The practice tests also lack the ability to report scores and progress and are limited to a narrow scope of accessibility options, including zoom, highlighted text, and digital notepads/scratch paper. The lack of scoring ability is a disappointing omission, especially for educators seeking to use the practice assessments as an identifier of their students' progress with the higher-order skills.
Getting Started with the Smarter Balanced Practice Tests
All in all, if you are an educator or parent in a Smarter Balanced-adopting state, I highly recommend giving your students/children a chance to practice via these tests. The digital nature of the assessments is very different to what students (and educators) are used to, so the more experience gained, the better!
P.S. One last quick tip: the link to the practice tests on Smarter Balanced's Official Practice and Pilot Tests webpage is somewhat difficult to find. If you want to jump straight to the practice tests, click here. However, the official page offers some great info on tech requirements and ideology, so it may be worth checking out as well.