Smarter Balanced Assessments:
What is SBAC Testing and Why is it Important?

The SBAC, otherwise known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, is a next-generation assessment system that was designed to measure student learning against the Common Core State Standards. In 2015, the SBAC tests were released to schools with the intent of providing an accurate snapshot of student progress in key subject areas like ELA and Math. In addition to assessing student performance, the test is also intended to generate important data about school and district performance so that administrators can make improvements in the lacking areas. This article will provide an overview of the SBAC and outline strategies to prepare students for the test.

What makes the SBAC test different from other standardized tests?

Many have heard of the ACT and SAT, which are known as “norm-referenced” tests, this means they compare a student's performance to the performance of other students. In contrast, the SBAC is considered a “criterion-referenced” test, which means that it was designed simply to assess the individual student’s understanding of the material.

The Smarter Balanced test is also different and more challenging in comparison to other state exams because it is a computer-adaptive assessment system. This type of assessment adjusts the difficulty of questions based on student responses so that all students are appropriately challenged. The benefit of this is that it allows teachers and administrators to get more precise information in less time in comparison to a fixed-form test. Unlike other standardized tests, in addition to typical item types, the SBAC also includes performance tasks that ask students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Both the ELA and Math portions of the SBAC consist of the following portions:

Computer Adaptive Questions: The questions in this section of the test will adjust to the student’s ability. The adaptive software selects subsequent questions that meet the specifications of the test blueprint and are matched to student performance. The computer-adaptive questions consist of a range of item types including Matching Tables, Checkboxes, Drag and Drop, Short Text, Hot Spot, and more.

SBAC Performance Tasks: The performance tasks on the SBAC are designed to measure a student's ability to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world scenarios, their depth of understanding, research and writing skills, and complex analysis of evidence. This portion consists of a set of complex questions that are centered around a common theme, they are typically interactive and require students to use a variety of skills in order to complete them.

Why is the SBAC challenging?

All standardized tests can be nerve-wracking and difficult for students, but the SBAC presents numerous unique challenges for educators, administrators, and test-takers. One of the most significant challenges associated with the SBAC is its reliance on technology. The test is entirely computer-based, which means that students must have access to appropriate technology in order to take the test which can be a challenge for schools and districts with limited resources. The test also requires students to have a basic understanding of how to navigate a computer-based platform, which can also be hard for younger students to grasp.

In addition, the SBAC presents a challenge in terms of the content being tested. The test is designed to assess students in English language arts and mathematics, and it is significantly more rigorous than traditional standardized tests. The test also requires students to analyze complex texts and demonstrate higher-level thinking skills, which can be a struggle for students to identify. Finally, the SBAC is a time-consuming test. It requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the material in a variety of ways, which can take longer than traditional tests.

Unlike exams where students only need to focus on understanding the content and vocabulary, the SBAC adds two more cognitive stressors. Not only do students need to be prepared for the content and vocabulary, they also need to be familiar with the strategic thinking needed and the advanced tech types that are used. The four main cognitive stressors of the SBAC are:

Content: Students either knew the content or they didn’t; that was a big case of why they missed the question (e.g. adding fractions).

Vocabulary: Students didn’t understand the wording of the question and it would sometimes throw them off (e.g. “denominator”).

Question Type: Do students 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 students are on the content.

Strategic Thinking: Then the type of strategic thinking (e.g. recognizing operations).

How should I prepare my students for the SBAC?

In order to prepare your students for all four of the cognitive stressors mentioned above, try the following:

First, begin by attending professional development sessions and familiarizing yourself with the assessment materials. It is also important to ensure that your curriculum is aligned with the SBAC standards, as the assessment content is based on those standards. Secondly, create lesson plans that incorporate the content of the SBAC, including activities that allow students to practice the types of strategic thinking that are required for the assessment. For example, many students struggle on questions that require visual or situational analysis, comparison, or graphing, ensure that your students are familiar with the kinds of questions that require this kind of thinking.

Finally, before the assessment, provide your students with practice tests that incorporate the item types that are going to be included in the SBAC. For example, it is important that your students understand the difference between multiple choice and checkbox question types and how to explain their thought process in a short answer question. During the assessment, teachers should ensure that students understand the directions, provide support and resources as needed, and monitor student progress.

For more on online SBAC practice tests, learn about our Strategic Thinking in Math program.

People also ask about the SBAC

What is the difference between the SBAC and CST?

The SBAC replaced the CST because the SBAC is a more rigorous assessment that better measures students’ college and career readiness. The CST is a more traditional, paper-based assessment system that tests students on specific content standards. The CST does not adjust the difficulty of questions based on student responses and does not include performance tasks. Overall, the SBAC is a more comprehensive assessment system than the CST, as it tests a wider range of skills and knowledge and is designed to challenge all students appropriately.

What types of questions are on the SBAC?

Some of the question types on the SBAC include Matching Tables which require students to select a checkbox in a table to match or answer the question in the problem. Students may also be presented with a Hot Spot question which requires them to select the correct answer by clicking on the area of an image. More SBAC sample items include Multiple Choice, Dropdown, Drag and Drop, Gap Match, and Short Text.

What is a Computer-Adaptive Assessment?

A computer-adaptive assessment is a type of assessment that uses a computer to determine the level of difficulty of a question based on the student's responses. This type of assessment is designed to provide students with questions tailored to their individual levels of ability.

What is SBAC testing used for?

The SBAC is used to improve teaching and learning by providing feedback to educators about how students are performing on the test. This feedback can help educators identify areas where they need to focus their teaching in order to help students improve their academic skills. Additionally, the SBAC measures the effectiveness of educational programs and interventions. This information can help policymakers and educators make decisions about how to best allocate resources to improve student outcomes.

What are the Common Core Standards?

The Common Core State Standards is an initiative to develop a shared set of K-12 educational standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. The standards were created in collaboration with states, teachers, parents, and experts, and they are designed to be internationally benchmarked.

What is the SBAC vs CAASPP?

The SBAC is a consortium of states that developed a common assessment to measure student achievement and college readiness. The CAASPP is the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. It is a system that is made up of several exams, which include the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

What is a good SBAC score?

The scaled score is a student’s current achievement level, they are measured on a scale of 2000 to 3000, and this scale increases over grade levels. The achievement levels are based on a student’s scaled score. Four categories of performance represent the four levels of achievement. These include Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4. Students performing at Levels 3 and 4 are assumed to be meeting standards.

Is SBAC testing mandatory?

Many students are required to participate in the Smarter Balanced Assessments for grades 3-8. However, depending on your state, parents may be able to opt out of state-mandated assessments.

When are SBAC scores released?

Smarter balanced test scores from the spring are generally released in late summer or early fall of the same year.