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Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments FAQs

Frequently asked questions about Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments.

Part of a Comprehensive Plan for Student Success

Each spring California students in grades three through eight and grade eleven take the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments in English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics. Smarter Balanced is a comprehensive assessment system that also includes formative assessment tools, allowing teachers to assess student learning during instruction, as well as interim assessments, which cover material taught over a period of time. Both formative and interim assessments provide teachers with critical and timely information so that they can adjust their teaching and differentiate instruction to target students’ individual needs.

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  1. What are the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments?

    The Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments are annual computer-based tests that assess students’ progress toward:

    • Meeting the rigorous academic standards adopted by California, and
    • Developing the critical thinking, analytical writing, and problem solving skills needed for college and a 21st century career.

    They replace the former paper-based, multiple-choice assessments that students took under the old Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) and focus more on the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed for college and a 21st century career. The first statewide administration of the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments was spring 2015.

  2. How were the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments developed?

    California worked with 20 other states as part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop the assessments, as well as the professional and instructional resources provided to help students, teachers and schools throughout the year. Educators—from K–12 to higher education—were deeply involved in the design, testing, and scoring of the assessments.

  3. How are Smarter Balanced Assessments an improvement over previous statewide tests?
    • The Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments are computer-based and computer adaptive, providing students with a wider range of questions and yielding more accurate information on the knowledge and skills that individual students have mastered.
    • The tests include performance tasks that challenge students to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving, and to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems.
    • The tests measure standards that our K–12 and higher education systems all agree address appropriate expectations for the preparation of high school graduates for success in careers and college.
    • The tests are taken online, and results are available to teachers, schools, and school districts much more quickly than results from previous tests.
    • The assessment system is designed to measure student growth over time, which was not possible under California’s previous system, and will provide teachers and schools with important information to guide learning.
    • The tests include supports for English learners and students with special needs, allowing them to effectively demonstrate what they know and are able to do.
  4. What specific supports are available to English learners and students with disabilities?

    There are a full range of accessibility supports for all students, including those who are English learners and students with disabilities. These include universal tools, designated supports, accommodations, and unlisted resources. For a full list and description of these supports, please see the CDE’s Student Accessibility Supports Web page.

  5. What do the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments measure?

    The assessments measure student performance on California’s content standards in English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics and their ability to write analytically, think critically, and solve complex problems. Results from the assessments are just one piece of information to help teachers, parents/guardians, and students understand how well a student is doing and whether they are meeting the grade-level standards. While the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments are important, students and parents should review the results in combination with other important performance measures, such as report cards, grades received on class assignments, and other teacher feedback.

  6. How are results from the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments used?

    Schools can use the results to identify specific areas in which to focus more attention in the next school year, while teachers can use the results to identify and address individual student needs.

    For eleventh graders, the assessments have a direct impact on the California State University’s (CSU’s) Early Assessment Program (EAP). The CSU and participating California community colleges will use student results from the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments as a student’s EAP status in English and mathematics:

    • Students who score at the highest performance level (“Standard Exceeded” [Level 4]) are considered ready for college-level coursework in English and/or mathematics and exempt from taking the CSU English Placement Test (EPT) and/or Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) exam.
    • Students who score at the “Standard Met” (Level 3) performance level are considered conditionally ready for college-level coursework in English and/or mathematics and exempt from taking the CSU English Placement Test (EPT) and/or Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) exam. However, they must take an approved English and/or mathematics course in twelfth grade and receive a grade of “C” or better. Students that do not meet the conditional requirement will need to participate in the CSU’s Early Start Program, unless exemption was met through another pathway.
    • Students who score at the “Standard Nearly Met” (Level 2) performance level are considered not yet ready for college-level coursework in English and/or mathematics and will need additional preparation in the twelfth grade. They will also be required to take the EPT and/or ELM exam unless they meet the exemption criteria through another pathway.
    • Students who score at the “Standard Not Met” (Level 1) performance level are considered not ready for college-level work in English and/or mathematics. They will need substantial improvement to demonstrate knowledge and skills needed for success in entry-level credit-bearing college coursework after high school.

    Grade 11 students are encouraged to submit their test results to the CSU by selecting the release button at the end of each CAASPP exam (i.e., for both the English language arts/Literacy and mathematics assessments).

    For more information, please see the CSU’s Early Assessment Program Web page External link opens in new window or tab..
  7. How are results reported for the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments?

    The Student Score Reports include the student’s overall score and achievement level for English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics, as well as information on the student’s performance in key areas (claims). In ELA, the claims include reading, listening, writing, and research/inquiry. In mathematics, the four claims are presented in three reporting categories: concepts and procedures, problem solving/modeling and data analysis, and communicating and reasoning.

    Beginning in 2015–16, the reports will include the student’s scores from the most recent test administration as well as the scores from previous administrations, providing a side-by-side comparison from one year to the next and allowing students, parents, teachers, and school administrators to measure student progress over time.

  8. When do local educational agencies receive their children's scores?

    Preliminary scores will be available to local educational agencies (LEAs) within three weeks after the test administration through the Online Reporting System (ORS). After 90 percent of the students have completed all testing, the printing of student score reports will start. The timeline for delivering the results to a district is no more than eight weeks after a LEA completes all of its summative assessments.

    Once LEAs receive the student score reports, they have 20 days to distribute the reports to parents, in accordance with Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Section 863.

  9. Where can parents find more information about their children's scores?

    Sample score reports, understanding your student’s score reports flyers, and parent guides are located on the CDE, CAASPP Student Score Report Information Web page.

    Coming soon is a Smarter Balanced Web site External link opens in new window or tab., to help parents understand their child’s score report and the progress their child is toward graduating ready for college and career.

  10. When will the state post its official results?

    The state will publicly release statewide results for the 2015–16 school year after all testing has been completed and all results have been tabulated. The 2014–15 results are posted on the CDE’s CAASPP Reporting Web page.

  11. Will my student's score be kept confidential?

    Yes. The California Department of Education takes the privacy of student records very seriously. No new data is being collected because of the change from one test to another. All student scores and other confidential data are stored securely, monitored against intrusion, and accessible only to those with legitimate educational purposes and credentials.

  12. What happens if too few students participate in testing?

    California has scaled back the use of standardized assessments, and currently only tests in the grades and subjects required by federal law. The federal government requires a 95 percent participation rate, and may withhold funding to states where too few students participate, though no state has actually lost funding so far. States are also required to use test participation as one component of local school accountability, but no determination about consequences has been made. Last year, more than 97 percent of eligible students took part in CAASPP.

Questions:   California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress | caaspp@cde.ca.gov | 916-445-8765
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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