Sample Items and Performance Tasks

Smarter Balanced sample items illustrate the rigor and complexity of the English language arts/literacy and mathematics items and performance tasks students will encounter on the Consortium’s next-generation assessments.


The sample items and performance tasks are intended to help teachers, administrators, and policymakers implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and preparing for next-generation assessments. They provide an early look into the depth of understanding of the CCSS that will be measured by the Smarter Balanced assessment system. While the items and tasks are not intended to be used as sample tests, educators can use them to begin planning the shifts in instruction that will be required to help students meet the demands of the new assessments.

The sample items and tasks can be viewed by grade band (grades 3-5, 6-8, and high school) or content focus. They showcase the variety of item types—including technology-enhanced items and performance tasks—that will be included in the Smarter Balanced assessment system. In addition, items illustrating the connections across grades within the CCSS—as well as the range of student achievement within a computer adaptive test—are also available. Most constructed-response and technology-enhanced items can be scored automatically, and many items include downloadable scoring rubrics.

The sample English language arts/literacy items and performance tasks include a mixture of published and commissioned reading passages and sources. Smarter Balanced has not obtained permission to reprint copyrighted passages and source documents referenced in the sample items. As a result, several items and performance tasks—Planes on the Brain 1-3, Animal Defenses, and Garden—include only the citations for copyrighted material, rather than the complete text. For the operational assessment in the 2014-15 school year, Smarter Balanced intends to use primarily published passages—reflecting the emphasis in the Common Core on exposure to “high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts”—and the full text of these passages will be available to students.

It is important to note that these samples represent only a small fraction of the more than 10,000 items and tasks currently in development to support the Pilot Test in early 2013. In addition, the samples are displayed using a simulated test platform that does not include accessibility tools and accommodation options that will be available when the assessments are administered to students—such as Braille, translation options, highlighter tools, and the ability to change font size or magnify portions of items.

In the coming months, additional items and performance tasks will be made available. Smarter Balanced welcomes feedback and questions on the sample items and tasks.

Accessing the Sample Items and Tasks

The sample items and performance tasks are compatible with desktop and laptop computers with the following Internet browsers:

  • Firefox 3.6 or newer
  • Internet Explorer 8 or newer (Certain items don’t work properly on newer versions of Internet Explorer. This will be corrected in the future.)
  • Chrome 18 or newer
  • Safari 4.1 or newer

** Please note the preferred web browsers for accessing the Practice and Training Tests are Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. The Practice and Training Tests provide a preview of the Smarter Balanced assessments and a more accurate depiction of both the testing environment and item types.


In addition, Android and iPad tablets with 9.5 inch screens (10 inch class) or larger are supported with the following Internet browsers:

  • Chrome 18 or newer (Android)
  • Safari 4.1 or newer (iPad)


Explore sample items and performance tasks:


Using the Sample Items and Tasks

The Smarter Balanced Theory of Action notes that an effective assessment system must be part of an integrated system of standards, curriculum, assessment, instruction, and teacher development. The sample items and tasks illustrate the knowledge and skills students will be expected to demonstrate on the Smarter Balanced assessments, giving educators clear benchmarks to inform their instruction. They represent the first of many steps to help familiarize teachers, students, and parents with the expectations of the Common Core State Standards and next-generation assessments.

Teachers and students will have two opportunities to experience the assessments prior to implementation in the 2014-15 school year. Begining in late February, Smarter Balanced will conduct a Pilot Test of the assessment system. A broader Field Test will follow in spring 2014.

At the start of the 2014-15 school year, the interim assessment item bank will be fully accessible to schools and teachers. In addition, teachers will have access to a digital library of formative assessment strategies and practices, including instructional best practices and professional development on assessment literacy.  The end-of-year summative assessment will start in spring 2015.


Alignment to the Common Core State Standards

The Smarter Balanced assessment system will cover the full range of college- and career-ready knowledge and skills in the Common Core State Standards. To do this, each test item is associated with assessment targets and overall content claims. Content claims are major categories for looking at student performance. The assessment targets were developed to ensure item writers and reviewers address the standards, learning progressions, and the range of thinking possible. The sample items reflect the expectations for rigorous content and application of knowledge contained in the Common Core.

As part of the development of the Consortium’s content specifications, Smarter Balanced member states approved content claims in English language arts/literacy and mathematics:


Developed with Educators

In 2012, Smarter Balanced Governing States recruited K-12 teachers and higher education faculty to write and review assessment items and performance tasks guided by the Consortium’s item/task specifications and review guidelines. Item writers participated in trainings on the Consortium’s specifications and assessment design principles. Educators will continue to be involved in the development and implementation of the assessments, as well as professional development activities.


Item and Task Types

The Smarter Balanced assessment system includes a variety of item types. Smarter Balanced is exploring different response options for mathematics problems, including innovative uses of tablet technology. The response formats included in the sample items will be updated based on findings from cognitive labs and small scale trials being conducted this fall, as well as additional information gathered during pilot testing in early 2013.

  • Selected-response items prompt students to select one or more responses for a set of options.
  • Technology-enhanced items take advantage of computer-based administration to assess a deeper understanding of content and skills than would otherwise be possible with traditional item types. Technology-enhanced items capitalize on technology to collect evidence through a non-traditional response type, such as editing text or drawing an object. Selected-response and technology-enhanced items can be scored automatically.
  • Constructed-response items prompt students to produce a text or numerical response in order to collect evidence about their knowledge or understanding of a given assessment target.
  • Performance tasksmeasure a student’s ability to integrate knowledge and skills across multiple standards—a key component of college and career readiness. Performance tasks will be used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items. Some constructed-response items and performance tasks can be scored automatically; many will be hand-scored by professionally trained readers.These tasks will be delivered as part of the interim and summative components of the assessment system, with more extended tasks available in the digital library as part of the Smarter Balanced-developed exemplar instructional modules and inventory of currently available resources. The time and resource constraints for each performance task will be guided by its placement in the overall assessment system.Smarter Balanced has a comprehensive research agenda. During the spring 2013 pilot, the Consortium will research the effects of including a brief classroom interaction phase in the summative performance task on accessibility and standardization. The classroom interaction phase will then be appropriately constrained for performance tasks depending on the intended use and placement within the overall Smarter Balanced assessment system.


Accessibility and Accommodations

Smarter Balanced assessments will provide valid, fair, and reliable measures of achievement and growth for English language learners and students with disabilities. Working with member states, educators, and experts in the field, the Consortium is developing a variety of accessibility tools and accommodations options to allow virtually all students to demonstrate what they know and can do.

The sample items do not display the full array of accessibility and accommodations features that will be included in the operational assessment system—including tools to address visual, auditory, and physical access barriers, as well as the unique needs of English language learners. Over the next several months—guided by the Consortium’s Accessibility and Accommodations Work Group and advisory committees for English language learners and students with disabilities—Smarter Balanced will finalize the accessibility tools and accommodations options available through the test interface.

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