Very soon, students will not have to spend hours upon hours bubbling in answers at the end of their school year. Starting for the 2014-2015 school year, the none-too-loveable California STAR test will be replaced by a completely new standardized test called the Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium test, or SBAC for short.
“The change is prompted by the adoption of new standards,” said Gerald McMullin, assessment coordinator of the Castro Valley Unified School District. “The assessment has to change.”
It is a very welcome change. This new standardized test will be on par with the new set of state school standards that McMullin mentioned, called the Common Core State Standards (CCS), which will focus more on the process of a student’s problem solving, not just the plain knowledge of the student.
“It is assessing the process, not the content,” said Assistant Principal Matt Steinecke. The goal of the SBAC, stressed Steinecke, is to get a better picture of how students learn instead of what they have memorized in class.
The “smarter test” will be given to students in grades 3-8 and to juniors in high school. The SBAC will be taken entirely online using a computer-adaptive test.
How exactly is the test going to be carried out on computers? Here is a rough sketch of how the test will work:
When students answer questions on the SBAC, their answers shape the next questions, allowing the program to assess the students’ knowledge. For every correct answer, the next question will be slightly more challenging. If a question is answered incorrectly, the next question’s difficulty will be constant until an answer is once again answered correctly. If an answer is wrong, the choice that was picked will help the computer determine why the wrong option was chosen; in short, A, B, C, or D will tell the computer whether or not the error was a simple miscalculation, a misunderstanding of the concept, or the result of a learning disability.
There will also be sections that are not multiple choice. “Constructed Response” questions will be answered by filling in words or giving short answers. “Performance Tasks” will require logical thinking and an explanation of the answer.
Currently, the only subjects in the SBAC are English Language Arts and Mathematics, but there will be more subjects added in the future.
Report cards will be sent home after the test detailing how well a student performed on the SBAC. Also, the test will take quite a large chunk of time to complete, as every student participating will need time in computer labs. How this will work during one of the busiest months of the school year is still to be announced.
“It is going to be a very different type of assessment and it will be difficult at first to adjust to it, especially at a large campus like CVHS,” said McMullin. Despite the sudden change, however, this new method of test-taking is no doubt a much needed improvement on the outdated bubble-in STAR.