The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Smarter Balanced Assessments, change for the better?

Last week on Thursday, our school held Daytime Staff Meetings where we focused on released items from the Smarter Balanced Assessments. As we analyzed items, constructed response questions, and performance tasks, we considered the critical question “what does the learner need to know and be able to do to successfully complete this task?”

Collectively, we identified several key skills that students will need to do to succeed on the assessments they will see in the spring of 2015, including:

  • Understand figurative language/literary elements/personification
  • Make inferences
  • Gather information by digging deep into text
  • Know what the question is asking
  • Critical thinking
  • Give experiences with different texts/genres, and putting them together
  • Provide/find/organize examples to prove their point
  • Use/organize supporting details
  • Stay focused on task
  • Possess strong vocabulary skills
  • Plan/Prewrite
  • Write
  • Practically apply math concepts

As we considered our list, we saw a number of skills that we want students to leave our building with. As we moved on in our conversation to talk about what we need to do as an organization to get ready for this change, we realized that in many ways, Smarter Balanced Assessments could be a critical component leading to better professional practice. Our students will receive a better education if we begin to do some of the things we spoke about in our building, including:

  • Give students appropriate opportunities to write, require them to support answers with evidence
  • Give students the chance to use technology
  • Teach kids to look at multiple data sources and synthesize/analyze them
  • Teach kids the skill of taking notes, planning, and revising
  • Be intentional. Teach kids the skills listed above and model them in our own practice
  • Teach the process of approaching and answering a question
  • Break tasks down. Teach kids how to break a complex task into components for themselves (also called “chunking.”)
  • Create and assign performance task
  • Provide real world examples in student work
  • Teach kids to be good note takers
  • How do we move away from “the right answer” obsession some kids have?
  • Help kids develop better capability for time on task
  • Provide students think time
  • Teach kids about informational reading
  • Change our interventions – less on work completion, more on learning
  • Change our mental view of assessment – think of them as “thinking assessments.” Less multiple choice questions

Overall, I left our school on Thursday very optimistic for the future to come for our students. While many of the “to do” items are already in place in pockets of our building, their expansion as we work through the curricular shift already in progress will do nothing but make our school better.

Could it be that the Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessments will lead to better professional practice?


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4 thoughts on “Smarter Balanced Assessments, change for the better?

  1. Keiko Ito on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    I am Keiko Ito and a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading your post. I think Smarter Balanced Assessments can help each student master skills or concepts and give them better learning opportunity. Thank you for sharing great ideas.
    Keiko Ito

  2. Amanda Patton on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    Thanks for sharing! Your Smarter Balance Assessments are very enlightening and I think they will prove to be successful. My favorite concept is “chunking”. I constantly do this to help diminish my workload.

    Amanda Patton
    University of South Alabama EDM 310

  3. Mr. Bernia,

    I, too, am a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class. I like how you began your post with what the children will be doing, then you concluded it with what you, as a teacher, will be doing to help students learn and effectively utilize the skills they have learned. I also liked your bullet point: provide real world examples in students’ work. There are always times when learning that a students will ask, “When am I ever going to use this information?” Giving the students an example of when they are going to use that information from the start is a great was to show them why that information is important. I really enjoyed your post and your thoughts about your meeting. Thanks so much for your time.

    Hillary Hayes

  4. Khushbu Patel on said:

    Dear Mr. Bernia,

    I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I really like the points you made for educators. It is very important that the students get a chance to use technology. There are so many education tools on the Internet. A student has a bigger scope than just his or her textbook to see real-world examples and look around to discover and think on the Internet. I also like the idea about breaking tasks down. This will enable a student to do each part of the task with efficiency and full effort. It also is a representation of a puzzle, where a student can break things down and slowly understand a concept in contrast to overwhelming him or her with lots of material together. All of those points impact the type of assessment given to students. I agree that it should be more than multiple-choice. There is nothing better than to get students to think and use what they have learned with technology and the pieces of each concept.

    Khushbu Patel

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