Smarter Balanced is the result of state education agency staff, teachers, higher education faculty, and other educators working together to create a “best of the best” assessment system with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of students who are well prepared for college and careers.

This effort began with the recognition that most assessment systems were disjointed, outdated, and did not offer a cohesive set of tools to help educators improve teaching and learning. In 2010, 30 states came together to submit a grant application to create a system that would redefine assessments to feature the following characteristics:

  • Conducted online and customizable for students
  • Composed of test questions that measure essential skills such as critical thinking, writing, and problem-solving
  • Provides the widest array of features ever assembled to ensure testing is fair for all student
  • Supports teachers in professional development and in-class assessment tools

The consortium of states that developed Smarter Balanced were awarded a $178 million federal grant, with the state of Washington acting as the fiscal agent. Over the next four years, these states and educators from across the country built an assessment system that would make history by becoming the most widely used test in the United States.

In 2014, as the federal grant was ending, Smarter Balanced became a public agency housed at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Smarter Balanced is now funded by the states that use its system. It is governed by its membership, which sets its budget and policies, operates the system, and continues to support research and development to further improve assessment.

The Pilot Test

Working with K-12 educators and higher education faculty, Smarter Balanced developed, reviewed, and tested thousands of assessment items and performance tasks. In 2013, Smarter Balanced conducted a Pilot Test in schools across the consortium. Information from the Pilot Test informed the development of additional assessment items and performance tasks, accessibility options and accommodations, and the design of the test interface.

The Field Test

Smarter Balanced conducted a Field Test in spring 2014. The Field Test was a practice run of the assessment system that helped ensure that test questions are accurate and fair for all students. It also gave teachers and schools a chance to gauge their readiness in advance of the first operational assessment in spring 2015.  The Field Test represented one of the final stages in a lengthy development process to ensure that the Smarter Balanced assessment system measured the depth and breadth of the Common Core State Standards.

Timeline by School Year

Smarter Balanced began operations in 2009 and has managed to move to full implementation as of 2015. The timeline below shows the major milestones during that time.


Spring 2015

April 1, 2015

Summative assessment available for use by member states.

Winter 2014–15

December 16, 2014

Interim Assessments available for use by member states.

Fall 2014

September 1, 2014

Preliminary Achievement Level Setting occurs.

Summer 2014

July 1, 2014

Field Test scoring. Digital Library available for use by member states.

July 2014

July 1, 2014

Smarter Balanced moves to its new home at UCLA  and begins its operational phase.

June 2014

June 1, 2014

Field Test concludes. More than 4.2 million students participated, making it the largest online assessment to date.

May 2014

May 1, 2014

Governing States approve Achievement Level Setting design and summative test blueprints.

March 2014

March 1, 2014

Smarter Balanced begins Field Test of summative and interim assessment items and performance tasks.

September 2013

September 1, 2013

Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines adopted to ensure assessment system meets the needs of English language learners and students with disabilities.

Summer/Fall 2013

August 1, 2013

Field Test items and tasks are reviewed for content and bias/sensitivity.

May 2013

May 1, 2013

Online Practice Tests released, featuring example test questions for grades 3-8 and 11 in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.

Spring 2013

April 1, 2013

Teacher teams write Field Test items and tasks, review for alignment with CCSS, and check for bias/sensitivity (through fall 2013). Pilot Test Scoring

March 2013

March 1, 2013

Sustainability plan approved by Governing States.

February–May 2013

February 1, 2013

Pilot Test of assessment items and performance tasks. Research sample includes 10 percent of public school students in member states; all schools may participate on a voluntary basis.

Early 2013

January 16, 2013

Begin development of Exemplar Instructional Modules across grades in ELA/literacy in collaboration with State Networks of Educators (through May 2014).

Winter 2012

January 1, 2013

Teachers and teacher educators recruited to develop digital library of formative assessment tools and practices.

December 2012

December 1, 2012

Smarter Balanced releases technology strategy framework and system requirements specifications. The framework provides minimum hardware specifications and basic bandwidth calculations.

November 2012

November 1, 2012

Member states approve preliminary blueprint for summative assessment. Smarter Balanced awards contract for the development of online reporting system. Smarter Balanced releases draft initial achievement level descriptors and college content-readiness policy.

October 2012

October 1, 2012

Smarter Balanced releases online, interactive sample of items and performance tasks.

September 2012

September 15, 2012

Smarter Balanced holds twice-yearly Collaboration Conference, bringing together K-12 state leads, higher education leads, work groups, and contractors.

September 2012

September 1, 2012

Smarter Balanced awards test delivery system contract.

Summer/Fall 2012

August 16, 2012

Teachers help write pilot items and tasks, review for alignment with CCSS, and check for bias/sensitivity. Cognitive labs and small-scale trials are conducted.

August 2012

August 1, 2012

Advisory committees on English language learners and students with disabilities convened.

June 2012

June 1, 2012

Governing States approve the Formative Assessment Master Work Plan, which outlines the development of a digital library of formative assessment resources.

Spring 2012

May 15, 2012

Development of item and task specifications; accessibility and accommodations guidelines; and bias and sensitivity guidelines for assessment system.

May 2012

May 1, 2012

Smarter Balanced awards item authoring and item pool application contract.

April 2012

April 1, 2012

Smarter Balanced awards contract for item writing for the Pilot Test and small-scale trials.

March 2012

March 1, 2012

Technology readiness tool available to assist with transition to online assessments.

January 2012

January 11, 2012

Information technology systems architecture available. This provides a roadmap for how the Smarter Balanced technology vision will be realized.

Fall 2011

October 1, 2011

Smarter Balanced releases content specifications in mathematics and English language arts/literacy.

July 2011

July 1, 2011

Member states approve master work plan for summative assessment.

October 2010

October 1, 2010

U.S. Department of Education awards $176 million Race to the Top Assessment grant to develop a student assessment system aligned with the Common Core State Standards. USED Cooperative Agreement

June 2010

June 1, 2010

Smarter Balanced submits Race to the Top Assessments grant to the U.S. Department of Education. Race to the Top Application Application Appendices

April 2010

April 1, 2010

U.S. Department of Education announces availability of funds for assessment development through Race to the Top.

March 2010

March 1, 2010

At the Next Generation K-12 Assessment Systems meeting, the Consortium joins forces with a collaboration of New England states and West Virginia working to create a balanced assessment system.

December 2009

December 1, 2009

States from Hawaii to Kansas collaborate to create dynamic interim and formative assessments that could be scaled to a common summative assessment.