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Testing Tools Approved for Smarter Balanced Assessments

Brenda Iasevoli | September 12, 2013

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smarterbalancedlogoCalifornia and the 24 other states developing the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned to the new Common Core standards have approved support tools for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities.

The supports range from digital notepads to test items translated into the student’s native language.

The “Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines” identifies three types of support for meeting the needs of all learners:

Universal tools: Available to all students, they include spellcheck and a digital highlighter. Students can mark or flag items they may want to review later. They can use embedded rulers, protractors and calculators for some math problems. Dictionaries are available for tackling the “real-world” writing assignment called a performance task.

Designated supports: These are available to students including English language learners, struggling readers or students with attention deficits so long as they have been evaluated by educators as needing extra assistance. These supports can include “color contrast” text or blocking distracting content. “Stacked translations” provide a translated test passage above the passage in English.

Accommodations:  These are for students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). A deaf student, for example, can watch videos showing a person signing the test content. Closed-captioning is provided for listening items on the English Language Arts test. Blind students will have access to a talking or Braille calculator. Speech-to-text technology allows students to dictate their answers or give voice commands in order to save work or open and close applications.

The use of text-to-speech technology, which will read aloud the printed text, can be used for reading passages. However, the policy states that this accommodation is only appropriate for about 1 or 2 percent of students with disabilities.

“By adopting common universal tools, designated supports, and accommodations, states will be able to provide an assessment that allows all students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, while ensuring that results are comparable across the Consortium,” Deb Sigman said in a press release. She is the Smarter Balanced Executive Committee Co-Chair and California’s deputy superintendent of public instruction.

Smarter Balanced assessments will be field tested in the spring. The actual tests are expected to roll out in the 2014–2015 school year.

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