REPORT: Teachers Call Smarter Balanced More Rigorous, Better Aligned

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A new report released Monday shows that Smarter Balanced assessments, when compared to former state assessments, are more rigorous and better aligned with classroom instruction. These were the findings in a report “Still on the Right Trajectory,” released by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), in partnership with EducationCounsel and Clowder Consulting.

The report, which compared fifth-grade Smarter Balanced assessments to the former state assessments in Oregon and Nevada, shows that 100 percent of teachers who participated in the study agreed that Smarter Balanced assessments were grade-level appropriate.

“What I like about the Smarter Balanced Assessment is that students are being asked to think more critically and use more mathematical problem-solving skills,” said 2007 Oregon Teacher of the Year Jacqueline M. Cooke, an elementary math facilitator in Portland, Ore. “Because more value is placed on application of mathematics concepts rather than regurgitation of discrete facts, it’s a stronger assessment.”

The findings from “Still on the Right Trajectory,” were:

  1. Smarter Balanced remains a better reflection of the range of reading and math knowledge and skills that all 5th grade students should master.
  2. Smarter Balanced is designed to include items that better reflect a full range of cognitive complexity in a balanced way at the 5th grade level.
  3. Smarter Balanced better aligns with the kinds of strong instructional practices these expert teachers believe should be used in the classroom at the 5th grade level, and thereby better supports great teaching and learning throughout the school year.
  4. While Smarter Balanced is still more rigorous and demanding, it is grade-level appropriate, even more so than prior state tests.

The report’s summary states:

The data gathered from our best teachers are compelling and continue to indicate that transitioning to the Smarter Balanced assessment is still worth it. Our teachers emphasized a need for alignment between assessments and excellent classroom instruction. The Smarter Balanced assessment remains on the right trajectory toward meeting that goal. Teachers also acknowledged the assessment not only reflects what they do in the classroom, but it also has the potential to inform improvements to their practice and help move the teaching profession forward.

One teacher who participated in the study said, “I think one big takeaway for me is that (as) teachers, we’ve been brutalized by assessment in certain areas. I think that this really gives us (a chance) to look at what an assessment can be and what it can do and how it can really be part of your classroom so that teaching to the test wouldn’t be a negative. If the test was really intelligently designed, it should be what you’re doing (in the classroom).”

NNSTOY also released a report examining the 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessment, but did not compare it to other state assessments. The summary of the report, “Beginning a Higher Trajectory: Grade 11 Study,” stated:

Panelists believed that the assessment was appropriate for 11th grade students and required that students understand the content in order to perform well. It is difficult to develop an assess­ment that is challenging for all students without being overwhelming. However, the teachers indi­cated that the assessment did not fully sample the instruction in an excellent 11th grade classroom and that it should require more complex thinking.

Learn more by visiting the NNSTOY Website here.