Seattle Public Schools

Smarter Balanced

Smarter Balanced FAQ & Resources

Smarter Balanced FAQ & Resources

Why is state testing required and why is it important?

State testing is required by state law ( RCW 28A.230.095) and federal law ( Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Statewide testing is important because it helps ensure all public school students receive a quality education, no matter where they go to school, because they are measured to equal standards. This information assists districts and schools in improving instructional practices and curriculum and gives families valuable information about how well their student is doing and where additional help might be needed.

Test results are one piece of information about how your student is doing in school. Together with report cards and other information, test results let you know if your student is on track to succeed in higher grades as well as for college and career. For students in grade 10, these results are used by some community colleges in Washington to measure if students are on track for college-level classes.

How are the assessments organized and how long do they take?

Both the SBA English/Language Arts and Math assessments are administered online, and each is   organized into two sections:

Part One: Computer Adaptive (CAT) 

Series of mostly multiple choice and short answer questions which may increase or decrease in difficulty level based on student responses, estimated to take 1-2 hours*.

Part Two: Performance Task (PT)

Real-world scenario requiring multiple steps for math and extended writing task in language arts, estimated to take 1-2 hours*.

Individual schools send specific assessment schedules to families in the spring.

*The SBA and WCAS assessments are not timed, and overall testing time will vary by student.

What is the WCAS?

washington state science standards

The Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS) is a test given in the spring to all 5th, 8th, and 11th grade students.  The WCAS is administered online during the same window as Smarter Balanced and uses the same state assessment platform.

The WCAS measures student performance on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that were adopted by our state in 2013. Learn more about the state science standards and the WCAS test.

How can I best prepare my child for the assessments?

Our teachers’ engaging daily lessons are the most effective preparation for students because the assessments are designed to match classroom learning goals.

Families may take practice tests  at home if they’d like, and students tend to perform best when they are well fed and well rested. No additional family preparation is necessary other than a positive attitude and growth mindset.

Practice Tests are available for ELA and math
Training Tests are available for science

Answers to the practice tests are available.

How do Smarter Balanced assessments present content differently?

Smarter Balanced assessments are designed to require more complex thinking than previous state assessments required. For example:

  • Evidence: Students must go beyond simply skim-reading or answering writing prompts with only personal opinion. The assessments demand close reading and evidence-based responses.
  • Rigor: Students may not rely as much on process-of-elimination. The assessment includes some multiple choice with more than one answer as well as other demands for higher-level thinking.
  • Authenticity:  It may not be enough to apply memorized formulas to a set of numbers out of context. Smarter Balanced asks students to apply math concepts to real-life situations, often requiring multiple steps.
  • Writing: Writing is now assessed at all tested grade levels, with extended writing in English language arts. Even math includes some short-answer writing.

The assessments are online. Does this change the way students take the test?

The online format means the tests can be:

  • Interactive:  More than just multiple-choice, students may be asked to drag-and-drop answers, complete charts or highlight evidence.
  • Adaptive: Assessments conform to ability; questions become more or less challenging for each student depending on answers.
  • Supportive: The online platform offers supports for all students, such as built-in calculators, highlighters, etc., and more specific accommodations for students with special needs.

How will scores be shared with families?

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) mails hard copies of state test scores to school districts by the end of September, the district distributes them to schools, and schools make them available to families. These are score reports that show families how students fared on the Smarter Balanced assessments the previous spring. Scores are posted to The Source in September

Need help interpreting your child’s scores?

How are scoring ranges determined?

The Smarter Balanced score reports will allow families to chart students’ grade-level growth over the years. Score numbers will range from about 2,000 to 3,000, with achievement levels from 1-4. Teachers and community members helped set these levels initially by using data from 2014 field tests involving more than 3 million students.

Smarter Balanced is different enough that scores cannot be accurately compared to those of previous state tests, but families may be tempted to compare them anyway, especially if a student’s proficiency level changes. Remember that scoring shifts are normal whenever more rigorous academics and their assessments are introduced; teachers and students need time to adjust. The 2015 scores are viewed as a baseline that will help our teachers (and families) measure future growth.

Because the assessments were new in 2015, teachers and school leaders have re-calibrated their expectations, knowing that scoring shifts are normal and teachers and students need time to adjust. For example, state officials have adjusted passing scores for graduation to maintain the current graduation rate. Everybody is working together to ensure that students’ scores are viewed fairly as we grow into more challenging academic expectations.

How will student data be collected and shared?

For families with concerns about how student data will be gathered and shared, please view the OSPI Student Privacy information page.

How are ELL students and others with special needs accommodated?

The state provides more information about how students with special needs and English Language Learners are accommodated under the Special Populations header on its FAQ page OSPI State Testing accommodations information .

For ELL students, available  supports may include:

  • portions of the math and/or science test read aloud
  • translated glossary for math and science
  • use of a bilingual dictionary on the writing portion of the assessment
  • Spanish translation of the math and science test
  • translated test directions available in multiple languages

Students who have been in an English-speaking school for less than a year may qualify for a one time exemption from the English/ Language Arts assessment.

For students with an IEP or 504 plan, additional specific accommodations may be available on state assessments.  Families should check in with their child’s IEP or 504 manager to discuss options.

OSPI’s Guidelines on Tool, Supports, and Accommodations has additional information on what’s permitted and recommendations for use.

What are the requirements for high school students?

All 10th grade students are expected to participate in the spring Smarter Balanced administration for ELA and Mathematics.  11th and 12th grade students may participate in order to fulfill their graduation pathway.

In the state of Washington, students who pass the 10th grade assessments will have fulfilled their state graduation requirements.  For students who do not pass, additional graduation pathways will be available during the 11th and 12th grade years.

Please see OSPI’s State Graduation Requirements webpage for more information on graduation pathways.

Your student’s counselor can provide more information or visit OSPI’s State Testing webpage.

What if my child doesn’t take the assessment?

School board policy 2080 recognizes the right of parents/guardians to be notified of all state and district-mandated student assessments, including objectives and educational benefits, rights of refusal and effects of non-participation, and to receive the results from these assessments in a timely manner. Parents/guardians interested in refusal of participation should contact their school principal for more information.

Additional refusal details and implications:

  • The refusal request is valid for one school year. If you want to refuse participation in any assessment, you will need to re-submit the form each year.
  • Schools are required to have at least 95 percent Smarter Balanced participation.
  • Students who do not participate will receive a “zero” score on the assessment, are considered non-proficient, and no score report will be provided for teachers or families to view.
  • Teachers will not receive results that could otherwise be used as a tool to measure the student’s academic growth, for example, in the core academic areas of reading, writing, math, and/or science.
  • Families will not receive results that will enable them to chart the student’s growth over time.
  • Smarter Balanced Assessments are used as one measure for Highly Capable and Advanced Learner (HC&AL) eligibility for all students in grades 4-8. This assessment, within a “multiple criteria of evidence”, will be used in the identification and eligibility process. Participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment adds to the holistic picture of your student’s need for HC and AL services and SPS encourages all students to participate. If a student and family decide to opt out of participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessments, your student will still be considered for eligibility in the Highly Capable and Advanced Learner program.