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This effort began with the recognition that most assessment systems were disjointed, outdated, and did not offer a cohesive set of tools to help educators improve teaching and learning.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.
Student and School Participation
More than 4.2 million students in grades 3-8 and 11—including a small sample of students in grades 9 and 10—participated in the Field Test. Administered online, the Field Test closely resembled the summative assessment that students now take. Most students completed a test in one subject: either English language arts/literacy or mathematics. While the Smarter Balanced assessment is untimed, each subject area is expected to take 2.5 to 4 hours to complete. Schools administered the Field Test over multiple days. Because questions could have been revised or dropped after the Field Test, students did not receive scores. Each Smarter Balanced member individually determined how schools and students would be selected to take the Field Test. In some states, only a representative sample of students participated—10 percent of students for each subject area. In others, the Field Test was administered to every student.
An Essential Step in Test Development
The Field Test represented a major milestone toward developing next-generation assessments. It served several important purposes.
- Quality Assurance: The Field Test evaluated the performance of more than 19,000 assessment items and performance tasks—as well as the performance of the online testing system. For test developers, the Field Test showed which questions worked well and which ones needed to be improved so that they contributed to a fair and accurate assessment of student achievement.
- Achievement Level Setting: Data from the Field Test allowed Smarter Balanced to set preliminary achievement standards in fall 2014. These achievement levels serve as a starting point for discussion about the performance of individual students and groups of students in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. They are used as one indicator of whether or not students are on track for post-secondary success.
- Test Administration: For member states, the Field Test provided an opportunity to make sure technology systems and administration logistics were ready for implementation of the assessment system.
Designed for All Students
Smarter Balanced is committed to producing assessments that are accurate and fair for all students. All usability, accessibility and accommodation features were available for students in the Field Test, and students with disabilities, English language learners, and English language learners with disabilities were included among Field Test participants. Students took great advantage of these tools and resources during the Field Test, using accessibility and accommodation features in one-third of test sessions.
For More Information
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.2014–152013–142012–132011–122010–112009–10
July 2014July 1, 2014
Smarter Balanced moves to its new home at UCLA and begins its operational phase.
June 2014June 1, 2014
Field Test concludes. More than 4.2 million students participated, making it the largest online assessment to date.
May 2014May 1, 2014
Governing States approve Achievement Level Setting design and summative test blueprints.
March 2014March 1, 2014
Smarter Balanced begins Field Test of summative and interim assessment items and performance tasks.
September 2013September 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 2013August 1, 2013
Field Test items and tasks are reviewed for content and bias/sensitivity.
May 2013May 1, 2013
Online Practice Tests released, featuring example test questions for grades 3-8 and 11 in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.
Spring 2013April 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
February–May 2013February 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 2013January 16, 2013
Begin development of Exemplar Instructional Modules across grades in ELA/literacy in collaboration with State Networks of Educators (through May 2014).
Winter 2012January 1, 2013
Teachers and teacher educators recruited to develop digital library of formative assessment tools and practices.
December 2012December 1, 2012
Smarter Balanced releases technology strategy framework and system requirements specifications. The framework provides minimum hardware specifications and basic bandwidth calculations.
November 2012November 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 2012October 1, 2012
Smarter Balanced releases online, interactive sample of items and performance tasks.
September 2012September 15, 2012
Smarter Balanced holds twice-yearly Collaboration Conference, bringing together K-12 state leads, higher education leads, work groups, and contractors.
Summer/Fall 2012August 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 2012August 1, 2012
Advisory committees on English language learners and students with disabilities convened.
June 2012June 1, 2012
Governing States approve the Formative Assessment Master Work Plan, which outlines the development of a digital library of formative assessment resources.
Spring 2012May 15, 2012
Development of item and task specifications; accessibility and accommodations guidelines; and bias and sensitivity guidelines for assessment system.
April 2012April 1, 2012
Smarter Balanced awards contract for item writing for the Pilot Test and small-scale trials.
March 2012March 1, 2012
Technology readiness tool available to assist with transition to online assessments.
January 2012January 11, 2012
Information technology systems architecture available. This provides a roadmap for how the Smarter Balanced technology vision will be realized.
Fall 2011October 1, 2011
Smarter Balanced releases content specifications in mathematics and English language arts/literacy.
October 2010October 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 2010June 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 2010April 1, 2010
U.S. Department of Education announces availability of funds for assessment development through Race to the Top.
March 2010March 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.