Smarter Balanced Assessments 10

Note:  The Iowa Assessments (formerly known as ITBS/ITED) continue to be the statewide assessments required for accountability purposes.  Legislative action will be required to replace the Iowa Assessments with the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Why the rush to adopt the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

I attended a session with government reorganization consultants once.  Cards were handed out and we were instructed to write down what we’d like to change in the juvenile court system if money were no object.  These consultants were wasting my time, and the time of everyone else in the session, because the truth is that in juvenile court, as in public education, money (and time, for that matter) are always limiting factors.

We have to set priorities because there is not enough time in the school day/year or money in the school budget to do everything we could possibly want to do.

We know that the Smarter Balanced Assessments will cost more money and take more time to administer than the current Iowa Assessments.  Are they worth the loss of additional instruction time?  Are they worth more than spending the money for instructional purposes instead?

I don’t see how we can answer those questions in the affirmative until SBAC delivers actual, full-length assessments for all grade levels.

In the meantime, we already have an assessment aligned with the Iowa Core/Common Core: the Iowa Assessments.  Why not wait and see how the Smarter Balanced Assessments performs in practice for other states before we decide whether or not to commit to using it?

Time for Test Administration

–                 Iowa Assessments          Smarter Balanced (times are estimated)

Grades     Core        Complete          Short        Long                 Latest Estimates*

3            4h30min     5h40min          6h30min     10h30min         7h

4-5         3h45min     4h55min          6h30min     10h30min         7h

6-8         3h45min     4h55min          7h               11h                  7h30min

HS          2h35min     3h55min          8h               13h                 8h30min

Cost of Test Administration

Iowa Assessments:**                                                              $3.50 per student

Smarter Balanced (summative assessment only):                 $19.81 per student

Smarter Balanced (with optional interim assessment):          $27.31 per student

*HT Joanne Jacobs

**ITP offers interim, end-of-course, or algebra readiness online assessments at a cost of $2.75 per student.  ITP offers writing and constructed response assessments at no cost.


10 thoughts on “Smarter Balanced Assessments 10

  1. Matt Townsley

    In my opinion, the jury is still out on the time/money/resources investment of SBAC, but I had a few thoughts, re: Iowa Assessments vs. SBAC, that might be useful to this conversation:

    The Iowa Assessments may pale in comparison to SBAC in the area of cognitive complexity. Presumably, the Iowa tests, because they’re multiple choice only, can assess students solely at the lowest two or three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Based on the sample questions posted on their site, the Smarter Balanced Assessments sometimes go beyond multiple choice and ask students to justify their answer and/or complete a task that is beyond recalling, understanding and applying. Some of these higher level prompts are being coined as “performance tasks” on the SBAC site ( I wonder if this aspect of SBAC adds to the administration time?

    SBAC will be administered via computer adaptive testing. “Computer adaptive testing adjusts to a student’s ability by basing the difficulty of future questions on previous answers, providing more accurate measurement of student achievement, particularly for high and low-performing students.” ( This is in stark contrast to the Iowa Assessments in which all students take the same test and may add to the time needed to administer the tests as well.

    Finally, both the Iowa Assessments and SBAC appear to fall short in the area of truly assessing the common core standards. For example, twenty-one standards/themes are listed for 8th grade language in the common core. Are all of these standards explicitly assessed on the Iowa Assessments? Will they be explicitly assessed via SBAC? Consider Reading: Literature, Reading: Informational Text, Reading: Foundational Skills, Writing, Speaking & Listening and you’ve got a pretty large list of content that would need to be assessed for each grade level. I am hypothesizing that if pressed, folks at both the Iowa Assessments and SBAC would agree their assessments do not fully incorporate the entire common core standards.

    1. Matt Townsley

      correction re: the first point of comparison above. I read through the ITP link noted at the end of the post. It looks like constructed response is available, but not mandatory, in the Iowa Assessments.

    2. Karen W Post author

      Matt, I’m glad you weighed in on this. I’m following (a bit) the work you all are doing in Solon on standards-based grading and I wonder 1) do you think it would be more valuable for Solon students to spend their time demonstrating mastery/having reassessment opportunities for their classes rather than taking lengthier standardized exams and 2) does standardization add value to the performance tasks beyond what you would get from teachers creating their own assessment/reassessment opportunities for (with?) students?

      I suppose, in other words, I’m skeptical about the value of standardized assessments for accountability purposes beyond basic skills (or maybe just about standardized-exam driven accountability?). Also, it was my impression, as a veteran multiple-choice test taker, that many of the sample items (short constructed response/technology-enhanced) could easily be rewritten as selected response questions. Is it your impression that they are actually more–something–than that? Will the scores be much more meaningful and useful for administrators/teachers/parents than the Iowa Assessment scores?

      1. Matt Townsley

        My impression is that some SBAC prompts are likely similar to those we see on the current Iowa Assessments. Several are not and that gives me a glimpse of hope. For example, this is sample prompt 43027 (8th grade math).

        Claire is filling bags with sand. All the bags are the same size. Each bag must weigh less than 50 pounds. One sand bag weighs 58 pounds, another sand bag weighs 41 pounds, and another sand bag weighs 53 pounds. Explain whether Claire can pour sand between sand bags so that the weight of each bag is less than 50 pounds.

        Because students are asked to explain (rather than merely provide an answer), the cognitive demand appears to be higher. (This type of prompt may end up being the exception rather than the norm, too). One thing seems certain to me: the cognitive level required by our current assessments does not match the type of learning we’d like to see our students experiencing.

        You also asked, “Will the scores be much more meaningful and useful for administrators/teachers/parents than the Iowa Assessment scores?” I’ll respond in connection to the question you had about our district’s standards-based grading philosophy: Whether it’s the Iowa Assessments or the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the information we receive is a limited snapshot of a student’s academic achievement or potential. Using a single assessment for multiple purposes (federal/state accountability, measuring student growth and effectiveness of curriculum/materials) creates its own set of challenges. I am not a trained psychometrician, however I am guessing someone who is would agree with the previous statement.

        I think it boils down to the cards public schools are currently dealt. We’re in the age of accountability and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Given that reality, I am optimistic new state assessments will improve, albeit incrementally, our current system. As the old adage goes, “what gets assessed gets taught.”

  2. Chris Liebig

    Matt — What you’re saying may well be true. But Karen’s point remains: is it worth the cost? If we made the tests fifty hours long, we could probably get an even more specific sense of just what the kids are and aren’t capable of. At some point, don’t the costs exceed the benefits?

    Even if we just focus on the benefits, they strike me as awfully speculative. Even if kids do better on a test at the end of the year, where is the evidence that that translates into a meaningful difference in their capabilities as adults twenty or thirty years later? It’s hard to buy into the standardized testing industry’s messianic view of its ability to transform the populace, especially since doing so seems to involve making school even more boring for the kids, and even less pleasant for the teachers, than it was before.

      1. Chris Liebig

        Thanks, Matt. But I wasn’t referring only, or even primarily, to monetary costs. I’m talking about the toll it takes on the educational experience, as well as the sacrifices that are made in terms of other educational values.

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