Improving SBAC Scores: The Missing Key

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, many schools have been struggling with the math assessment coming out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) design. Only 33% of students in the United States meets or exceeds the educational standards. One of the questions we frequently get while supporting schools is, “How can teachers engage and prepare students without ‘teaching to the test’?” This webinar will focus on the most looked over of the three keys for improving SBAC scores in elementary math: the type of strategic thinking that questions are asking students to perform. The goal is to recognize this kind of thinking and be able to create genuine learning experiences that helps to improve the targeted type of strategic thinking.

Presented by Scott Houston (Senior Educational Consultant, Educators Cooperative). This webinar was hosted in partnership by Alludo and Classtime.

The 3 Keys to Improving SBAC Scores

Scott: One of the first things I want to do is talk about the three keys of improving SBAC scores for elementary schools. Many times when teachers are getting back results from the SBAC, they’re saying: ‘I could have sworn my kids knew how to add and subtract fractions, but they didn’t do well in the fraction section. I don’t know what happened.’ We want to get a little bit deeper into why that’s happening. How do we target it just a little bit stronger and a little bit better?

Improving SBAC Scores

So the key that we’re going to be talking about today is the first: strategic thinking. Kids aren’t missing many of the questions because they don’t know the content; they are missing it because they do not understand what the questions asked, or they don’t understand the technology behind the question.

The goals for this particular training are:
– One: I want you to know the types of strategic thinking that the SBAC is demanding from the students. That when you see it, you can recognize it.
– Two: I want you to really be able to target it when you’re looking at a question item.
– Then the last piece is to really say: ‘Alright, so that’s the kind of thinking I want to bring in, and I want to have engaging activities that will help target that. Because if kids can’t have fun with it, then they’re going to have a hard time learning it.’ We don’t want that.

The 4 Main Cognitive Stressors of the SBAC

If you remember the California Standards Test (CST) a few years back, there were two common stressors, which were:
Content: the kids either knew the content or they didn’t; that was a big case of why they missed the question (e.g. adding fractions).
Vocabulary: they didn’t understand the wording of the question that would sometimes throw them off (e.g. “denominator”).
But those were the two main stressors at the CST. The SBAC comes along and they added two brand new stressors:

One is the type of question. Do kids know how to drag-and-drop? Can they interact with it? What about those checkbox questions? Checkbox questions drop scores by 30% – 40%, depending on how strong the kids are on the content. So that’s a big one!

Then the type of strategic thinking (e.g. recognizing operations). How good are the kids at reading a word problem, and knowing if it’s add, subtract, multiply, divide? Take a look at these 10 types of strategic thinking. You may be familiar with some of them, you may have seen the language with some of them. But are there any of these types of strategic thinking that you’re like: ‘Well, what exactly does he mean by that? What types are there?’

Let’s take a look at a question type with two types of strategic thinking: Situational Analysis with Comparing – so they have to compare all of this to each other.

improving SBAC Scores

It’s in a checkbox format. So we’re seeing kids score ~19% on this question on the IAB. Why is that? Because they’re only checking one box and it’s the tech; but a lot of the times, they’re just looking at the part of the statement here, but are not looking at the deeper reasoning behind it. So a situational analysis question forces kids to really look at it in depth one at a time. You’ll see comparing questions show up a lot in checkboxes, and a lot in the tables. And they really affect the kids scores: when the data comes back on this, it looks like your kids don’t know place value. But it was the type of question that got them, not because they didn’t know the place value.

Valentin: Do you see any difference throughout the grade levels in terms of recognizing the question types?

Scott: Not necessarily. We see the kids doing bad at the checkbox questions in sixth grade as they are in third grade. A lot of times, it’s because the textbook isn’t training them how to handle these kinds of questions.

The IAB only have maybe one or two of these checkbox question types in there, and they only have that same question over and over again. So where can kids go to practice this kind of thing? This is where you bring in some of that tech. For example, Classtime would handle this kind of question perfectly, because they have the checkbox format.

SBAC Question and Strategy Analysis

These are the four questions that teachers want to be asking themselves, when they see a test release item like this:

SBAC Sxample

1) What’s the content? So in this case, we’re comparing fractions to whole numbers.
2) Is this computational? Conceptual? Problem solving? A “what & why”? Or a skill based question? “What & why” means they have to give a reason. Is there any place here where we give a reason? If no, then it’s not a “what or why” kind of question. But do I need to know more than just computational thinking in order to get this question, right? In this case, absolutely. This example question is conceptual.
3) What’s the tech? What do kids have to do technology-wise to pass this question? So we take a look, and we see right here: I got five numbers, I got six boxes. That freaks some kids out right away, because they feel like they can only use each number once. So as they start filling in the numbers, they’re like: I don’t know what to do now. They don’t think they can use the five twice.
4) What’s the strategic thinking? What kind of strategic thinking do you see being asked for here? Comparative thinking, since we’re comparing whole numbers. Algebraic thinking, because we have missing numbers that we’re trying to put in there. Then conditional thinking: there are tons of answers that will make this true. But I have to meet each condition in order to get this question right, and I have to do it for every single one of these – but I make a mistake on one of them, it’s all done.

So teachers need to be able to not only recognize questions, but they need to be able to create activities that help generate algebraic thinking, conditional thinking, comparative thinking. Textbooks don’t necessarily do things like this; textbooks tend to really focus on their computation and their word problems. So when kids get things like that last problem we saw, they struggle because they’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Analyze the questions, recognize the kind of strategic thinking, and then have the tools they need to get there: this will help improving SBAC scores. But most of the time, this kind of conversation isn’t going on.

Improving SBAC scores: first steps

We really wanted to emphasize in today’s training that you could be able to identify the kind of strategic thinking, that you would have ideas on how to strategically target them, and also have some engagement with the class as you did it. So: look at the tech types, familiarizes yourself with the strategic thinking, and be able to identify them. If you can’t identify them, you can’t teach the type of thinking.

I use Classtime a lot in order to target all these different kinds of tech types, and create some of the strategic thinking question types, because I can create tables, checkboxes, I can use visual analysis – I can do almost all of these using the Classtime setting. See how we’ve had fun while practicing for the SBAC in Los Angeles:

Learn How to Bring Classtime to your Institution: 


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