Smarter Balance Testing: The HOW of Answering Questions

  • High School
Mary Moser

I failed an entire section of an entrance exam and still got a scholarship.  See, the thing is, that I attended Catholic school my entire K-12 experience. For high school, you sat for an exam that determined if you were given admission, if the school limited enrollment, and determined who received scholarships.  There I sat, bubbling in the synonym and antonym section.  Except, I couldn't find the directions that told me when to start bubbling in antonyms. I raised my hand, explained that I knew that I should switch to antonyms but could they help me because I couldn't figure out the number to start this. 

I got the dreaded "I can't help you.  Do your best and read the directions." So, I just did all synonyms and missed an entire section of the exam. But, I still ended up with a scholarship because I test well and I know things. Luckily.  Though, perhaps, I lost out on larger scholarships.

That phrase "do your best, read the directions" is my only memory of the test and is the same dreaded phrase that I now hear myself parroting to our students as they sit for the Smarter Balanced test. 

I have to think that we can do better for our students while still building accountability pieces.  When it's a tech issue or a tech understanding, there has to be more. 

Nicely, and pretty new to my understanding this school year, Smarter Balance does offer the tutorial feature on questions.  If you click the 3 lines on the right side of a question and then select "I tutorial", a video will pop up and show you the how to answer a question on a tech level: dragging answers, highlighting answers, moving coordinates. That's a great feature and I've been using it left and right with students in the training and the actual test. 

But, what about...

Here I'm enlisting help.  I need outside the box thinking.  Or maybe just "outside the Mary box" thinking. While the tutorial feature can help in situations, I am not sure how to handle the other situations:

English Language Learners: the video tutorials are in English, though the visuals are universal.

Frustrated Students: this is what the student thinks when you approach them "I've been staring at this question for 20 minutes and I don't know how I put my answer in. I just want the screen to move to the next question. But if I don't provide an answer, my screen won't move forward." 

Time:  how do you get students enough time to practice with the tools and test screens without sacrificing too much of your classroom time? How do you make your work answer both needs? (Note: I'm not in a 1:1 school.)

Move onto a New Question: In a paper test, when you want to move on to a new question, you turn the page or scan to a new section on the page.  On adaptive and computer tests, you can get blocked from moving forward if you have unanswered questions.  Multiple Choice, that's simple: pick a letter.  Short Answer, still simple: type a few words.  The tech questions, drag and drops, select a word in a paragraph, that's hard: the "how" prevents you from a getting a new question.  How do you offer advice/review of the systems because what I want is an option, maybe only proctor allowed, of "I don't know how to put my answer in or I don't know how to guess, please give me the next question".

Wonder If

My wonderment moving forward is whether we as stakeholders should be talking more about this tech integration piece when it comes to testing. Or, are people already having robust conversations and if so, please point me in their direction.  That's a conversation I want to be having. The ability for my student to answer a question and demonstrate a skill should not be hampered by their ability to work within a tech environment.  Or, should it?

What would change with testing if we allowed those hints of "how" to be part of the environment? I know the worry is whether those proctoring can clearly define the line between helping with "how" versus helping with the actual answer or interpretation of the question.  

I guess it comes back to my original testing memory.  Would it have been a big deal if the proctor had confirmed my knowledge that at some point the test moves from providing synonyms to providing antonyms and that question 14 is where the change happens?

I simply don't know.  

But, I think it's of value for all involved with testing to work with students on the test and to sit and discuss these issues to find the best fit solutions. 

  • Smarter Balanced Assessments
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Mary Moser Board

Library Media Specialist at Clover Park School District

I work as a high school Library Media Specialist in the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Washington. This is my fifth year as a LMS, and my tenth year as a teacher.Before switching to the library, I taught 9th grade Humanities, which is the area that I certified in National Boards in 2013.

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