Smarter Balanced Assessments 15

Beyond the bubble sheet.

About HF 215, the House Republicans, write:

Student assessments will test students be-yond a bubble sheet for today’s learning standards, giving teachers and administrators the feedback and tools they need.

The Smarter Balanced Assessments will have “bubble sheet” style questions, they are now being referred to as selected response items.  These item types are relatively inexpensive to score and can be automatically scored by the computer during a computer adaptive testing session.

Short constructed response, technology-enhanced, and performance task items are also planned.  These would presumably be the “beyond a bubble sheet” portion of the assessment.  Some of the sample items released do not appear to demand more from a student beyond a more traditionally formatted, multiple-choice item.

In addition, these items present technical difficulties.  One portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment is intended to be delivered in a computer adaptive testing format.  This requires real-time scoring of the test items so that the computer can adjust the difficulty of the items presented as the test proceeds based on previous answers submitted.

The Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, & Testing for has identified developing automated scoring of constructed response and performance task items as a challenge for SBAC in delivering the assessment for the estimated price of $19.81 per student (compare to the optional writing portion of the ACT, for which there is an additional $15.50 fee) and for delivering the results in weeks, not months (imagine scoring tens of millions of performance task items without automated scoring).

Finally, the performance task items are the items that are being scaled back on the test due to concerns about the amount of time required for test administration (initial estimates were that the assessments would take 10.5 to 13 hours to administer).  Until we see the final format of the test, we can’t be sure how much of it really will be testing students beyond a bubble sheet assessment.

I find the decision to include a mandate for Smarter Balanced Assessments in HF 215 both curious and disappointing (see more coverage on the process of including the mandate at Caffeinated Thoughts here and here) because it is still my position that the Iowa Legislature still doesn’t have enough information to mandate this change.

The information they need is coming: SBAC has started pilot testing this week and the DE appears to be continuing efforts to determining the technology readiness of Iowa school districts to administer Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Accountability assessments are increasingly high-stakes for schools and teachers (see plans for assigning letter grades to schools and including “student outcomes” in the teacher evaluation process).  Until we have a known product and a full price tag (that includes not just test administration but how much districts will have to spend on both technology upgrades and additional IT staff), it isn’t prudent to commit to using the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Beyond the Iowa Assessments versus Smarter Balanced Assessments debate, there is a larger debate we should be having:  Should the primary focus of Iowa public schools be instruction or the administration of more standardized assessments?  Learning or measuring?  I appreciate that assessment is part of the instructional process, but I am still waiting for a compelling argument that so much of the assessment process should be standardized or that the route to better outcomes for students is to spend more time and money on standardized assessments instead of spending that time and money on instruction.