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November 2015

Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment

At the October Board of Education meeting, Dr. Tenney presented Plymouth’s 2015 spring Smarter Balanced test results. (The Powerpoint from the meeting can be found at www.plymouth. k12.ct.us under the “Curriculum and Instruction” and “Smarter Balanced Assessment Resources” links.) Individual student results will be shared with parents at parent-teacher conferences in grades 4-8 and via mail for grades 9 and 12. This month, in this column, I wanted to address some questions you may have about the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

What is the Smarter Balanced Assessment and why do we give it? The Smarter Balanced or SBAC assessment is a computer-based test being used by 18 states to assess student’s proficiency (in grades 3-8 and 11) on the Common Core State Standards. In Connecticut, it has replaced the CMT and CAPT tests. (For spring 2016, the SAT will be used instead of the SBAC for students in grade 11). Plymouth students took the SBAC field test in 2014 and the first “real” test in the spring of 2015. The test helps the state compare districts and schools across the state and provide information about performance gaps. Connecticut has the largest achievement gaps by race and poverty level and statewide assessments like the SBAC help us see how well we are closing such gaps. In Plymouth, we use results to track overall student performance over time, see how we are doing compared to other schools in CT, and examine the scope of our achievement gaps.

 Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment a “High-Stakes” test? Will this test affect which classes my child takes? In Plymouth, while we want our students to perform well on the Smarter Balanced test, we only use results from this test along with other data, such as smaller assessments, student work, and teacher observational data. It is never good educational practice to make major decisions based on one test score. On the state level, results on the Smarter Balanced are calculated into the state’s accountability systems for schools, but Connecticut has recently incorporated additional factors into our state’s accountability system such as graduation and attendance rates, physical fitness results, and access to the arts to emphasize the broader goals of schools. (See the curriculum and instruction “State Resources” link at www.plymouth. k12.ct.us for an overview of the state plan.)

What is the difference between Smarter Balanced and the Common Core? The Common Core is a set of literacy and math standards that were put together by a consortium of states so that there is more continuity in what we teach across the nation. The Common Core literacy standards emphasize reading closely, reading more non-fiction texts to better prepare students for real-world reading, and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different arguments. Common Core math emphasizes three major areas: more deeply understanding concepts, speed and accuracy in calculation, and problem-solving in meaningful contexts.

The Smarter Balanced is an assessment that helps schools and states measure students’ general attainment on these standards. Since it is one test (with 4 subtests), it cannot measure student achievement on all of the standards. Like any test, if used wisely and appropriately, it can be one tool to help schools improve educational programming for students to best prepare them for post-secondary opportunities.

The state has released parent guides at www.sde.ct.gov. We encourage parents to look at them to find ways to help students at home. Together, we can challenge, inspire, and prepare students for personal and professional success.

By Dr. Martin Semmel,

Superintendent of Schools

Plymouth, CT

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