Go Common Core

A Resource for Teachers Transitioning to the Common Core

Preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessments



The upcoming 2013-2014 school year will be the last one in which California students will take the California Standards Test (CST). The following year, students will be required to take the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which align with the new Common Core Standards. In preparation for this transition, my district is requiring math teachers to give periodic standardized unit tests which are supposed to mirror the Smarter Balanced Assessments. During the past school year, we gave two such unit tests. These were in addition to our usual chapter tests and quizzes.

Starting this year, students will take six of these required unit tests per year. Like the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the district unit tests will be far more complex than the CST style multiple choice tests given in the past. These new tests include short constructed response, extended constructed response, and in-depth performance tasks. Even the multiple choice questions are more rigorous because generally more than one answer is correct, and students must select all correct answers. These unit tests are five to six pages long, and have a very complicated scoring rubric.

While I certainly agree that students will benefit from being required to go beyond the usual multiple choice assessments, I question whether these new unit tests are practical for teachers like me with 185 students per day. It took me approximately two hours to score the tests for each of my classes. With five classes per day, each time I give a unit test I am looking at 10 plus hours of grading. Additionally, 185 copies of a six page test require a lot of paper and copying time. At my school, we are allotted seven reams of paper per month. Once we run out, we buy our own. While I understand that we must prepare our students for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, I am concerned that these new required unit tests will require hours of additional time and resources that we simply do not have.

Has your district created new tests to align with the Smarter Balanced Assessments? If so, are they time intensive to produce, administer, and correct? Does anyone have any advice as to how to correct these types of tests more quickly? Is the increased amount of paper necessary for Common Core lessons and assessments an issue for you or your district?


Author: dedicatedmathteacher

Middle school math teacher

4 thoughts on “Preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessments

  1. 10 hours…I fear this is becoming the new normal. The additional consequence of all these hours spent grading is less time to devise intervention methods for those students that need extra assistance in class. We spend more time scoring and less time responding.

  2. Thank you, docteach. I agree that my time would be better spent planning lessons and interventions.
    It seems that we teachers are expected to accomplish more with less time and resources.

    It is frustrating to me that we are always expected to teach to the test, regardless of what that test is. Do our unit tests need to perfectly mimic the Smarter Balanced Assessments? In my opinion, assessments should be practical and used to inform instruction. If a test takes 10 hours to grade, the results will not be provided in a timely manner. By the time the students get their test back, they have probably forgotten about it. By the time the teacher knows how the students did, it’s likely that three or four other math topics have been taught, and it’s really too late to review and and reteach.

    In my opinion, we can assess student understanding using much more practical assessments.

  3. I agree with both of you. I think while Common Core claims to put more emphasis on understanding concepts instead of rote memorization, it still misses the larger realities that teachers like us face. Continual testing still places a burden on teachers and students alike not only in time, but money. Emphasizing the understanding of key concepts only works if the students are able to get feedback in a timely manner that confirms that they truly understand the material and not just think they do.

    • I appreciate your comment, ChalkboardScholar. It seems sure that we will still be “teaching to the test” as much (if not more than) ever. I believe that students, teachers, and districts would all benefit from freeing up time and resources that are currently spent on continual assessment.

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