Development and Design

Along with creating an innovative assessment, Smarter Balanced is committed to an unprecedented level of transparency, so that anyone who is interested can see exactly how the test is made.

On this page we provide the following materials used in the process of developing the Smarter Balanced assessment system.

The Smarter Balanced summative test blueprints describe the content of the English language arts/literacy and math summative assessments for grades 3–8 and high school—and how that content will be assessed. Developed with broad input from member states, partners, and stakeholders, the summative test blueprints reflect the depth and breadth of the performance expectations of the Common Core State Standards. Smarter Balanced Governing Members adopted the preliminary test blueprints in 2012 and the summative test blueprints reflect refinements and revisions after the analysis of the Pilot and Field Tests. The test blueprints include critical information about the number of questions, score points, and depth of knowledge for items associated with each assessment target. They will continue to guide the development of questions and performance tasks, score reporting, and ongoing research.

Smarter Balanced has developed content specifications in English language arts/literacy and math to ensure that the assessments cover the range of knowledge and skills in the Common Core State Standards. The content specifications  serve as the basis for the Smarter Balanced system of summative and interim assessments and formative assessment support for teachers. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, former Smarter Balanced Senior Research Advisor and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, led the development of the content specifications in collaboration with experts in the field. The Smarter Balanced Technical Advisory Committee, Consortium work groups, and the lead authors of the Common Core State Standards also contributed to the documents. Hundreds of organizations and individual stakeholders provided feedback during two rounds of public comment.

Item and performance task specifications provide guidance on how to translate the Smarter Balanced Content Specifications into actual assessment items. In addition, guidelines for bias and sensitivity, accessibility and accommodations, and style help item developers and reviewers ensure consistency and fairness across the item bank. The specifications and guidelines were reviewed by member states, school districts, higher education, and other stakeholders.


Comprehensive and detailed evidence in support of the validity of the Smarter Balanced assessment system is available below.

This report describes the cumulative efforts of Consortium members, educators, and staff to collaborate and build the comprehensive and innovative Smarter Balanced assessment system. Download the report (PDF).