Needle in a Haystack? Accessing Common Core Assessment Item Samples from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium
In August 2012, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, released sample items and task prototypes. The public interest was so great that the resulting traffic crashed the PARCC server shortly after the samples were released! You can read my Navigator blog entry, which is a summary of the released PARCC sample items and task prototypes.
Prior to the PARCC release, Education Week published an article on item samples from the two primary Common Core assessment consortia, focusing mainly on items from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The article was helpful; however, in my experience, accessing additional item samples from the Smarter Balanced website is somewhat like searching for a needle in a haystack. SBAC does have item samples available, but they aren’t easy to locate.
So, as The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya would say, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” Here is a summary of SBAC’s item types for both Mathematics and ELA/Literacy:
- Selected-response items (SR): Many of SBAC’s sample SR items are in traditional multiple-choice format. In Mathematics, though, SBAC shows SR samples with more than one correct answer. SBAC’s item specifications explain that this is a way to include more cognitive complexity than a traditional multiple-choice response will allow.
- Constructed-response items (CR): Some of SBAC’s sample CR items are standard fill-in-the-blanks. However, particularly in ELA/Literacy, CR items may also require longer written responses, although students are still expected to complete them in 5–10 minutes. In Mathematics, CR items may request that students explain—using numbers, pictures, or words—how they solved the problem.
- Extended-response items (ER): In Mathematics, SBAC uses the term ER to designate constructed-response items that will require hand-scoring instead of automatic scoring. The Mathematics ER sample items require multi-step problem solving.
- Technology-enhanced items (TEI): SBAC has provided 25 templates for the creation of technology-enhanced items. Obviously, if all 25 templates are used, SBAC’s TEIs will be very diverse. Based on the sample items presented, the Mathematics items are quite varied, requiring students to graph, drag and drop to show relationships, plot points, and build shapes through tiling, to name a few. In ELA/Literacy, the TE item types are somewhat less varied. Students are required to reorder text to show relationships, select text to show evidence, and use dropdown menus to select responses, for example.
- Performance Tasks (PT): In ELA/Literacy, SBAC’s performance task sample items simulate a research task by requiring students to read one or more articles or passages, watch videos, and then synthesize their research in writing. In Mathematics, performance tasks require multiple steps and may include components of technology-enhanced items in the task. For example, students are asked to design a garden by drawing on a grid, calculating area, measuring and selecting materials, and calculating the cost of materials.
If you would like to dig deeper and learn more, Smarter Balanced has included a few item samples for each item type within its Item and Task Specifications for both Math and ELA/Literacy. These specifications, divided by subject (and further divided by grade in the case of Mathematics), are available at the bottom of this page on the Smarter Balanced website.
There are additional item samples within ZIP files, available for download, below the corresponding item specification documents. These folders contain item samples for the different item types, organized by SBAC’s claims and targets, which are defined in their draft content specification documents for both ELA/Literacy and Mathematics.
To find these samples, download the ZIP file for the subject and grade you would like to see. Then drill down to the claim and target you would like to view. The filename for these item samples contains the subject, grade, item type, claim, content/domain, and target. For example:
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has also provided a guide to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium with item samples at the bottom of the page arranged by subject and grade level. The samples and descriptions here are somewhat easier to navigate.
What is your school doing to demystify the Common Core assessments? Have you been successful in your quest to learn more about the new item types that PARCC and SBAC are pioneering? Let us know!
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