Saturday, October 18, 2014

Student Talk: Getting Ready for the Online SBAC

I'll be the first to tell you that elementary teachers in my district are feeling a bit stressed out about taking the Smarter Balanced assessment online! While we have not had a standard keyboarding curriculum in the past, we also have a different range of technology available at each elementary school. Some schools have only one computer lab in the library while others have Chromebooks in nearly every classroom and computer labs, as well! Not to mention, this is our first year fully teaching the Common Core standards. We are definitely feeling the pressure and insecurity that surrounds this type of transition and I can't imagine we are the only ones out there!

To help quell fears surrounding the use of an online assessment, as well as to begin identifying the areas of greatest need in relation to basic technology skills, I organized several SBAC trial runs.  Here is some of the feedback we received from students and teachers in a 3rd and 5th grade classroom as it regards to technology literacy. Please note, we did not ask students to focus on the content of the test during the trials.

If you'd like to get a snapshot of your students ability to navigate and interact with the Smarter Balanced assessments, set aside some time and allow students to explore the available practice tests. The short training tests that are available are only 6 questions long and utilize all of the question varieties present on the full practice/official tests. 

Here are some helpful tips from our first trials:
  • Empower students and remove pressure by explaining that is their job to "give the test a test!"
  • Give minimal instructions about the testing interface to get an accurate snapshot of what students know and are able to figure out on their own, then go back and review other features as necessary
  • Show them the pause feature and take them for a short break outside
  • Provide students with index cards to share their thoughts and feelings about the online testing environment and involve them in a discussion afterwards
  • Have an older classroom (that has already done a trial) send tech buddies to younger classrooms to provide extra help/guidance during their trial
  • Don't combine this trial with one that is focused on the content of the test, keep them separate (students should be allowed to write any sentences in the extended response spaces, for example)
I also used ThingLink to create an Interactive Tour of Smarter Balanced Testing Environment the testing environment for teachers to use as an introduction or for students to explore independently.

Remember, technology is meant to be used in the classroom to extend, engage, or enrich learning experiences to promote student growth, not hinder it! While the transition to taking an online assessment may seem oppositional to this guiding principal it is not something we are unable to overcome with careful preparation and implementation. So, start early in your preparations, utilize all of your resources (tech coaches, support staff, etc.), and involve your students in developing a plan for becoming comfortable with technology skills by the testing window!