Thursday, March 8, 2018

'Why do we test?'

Abby Javurek, Director of Assessment and Accountability
I’m often asked, “Why do we test?” It’s a great question with a variety of answers. But the most important answer has to do with students.  

Teachers are constantly assessing their students. It can be as simple as asking students what they know about a given topic before delivering a lesson. This kind of assessment is called formative. Of course, there are also the bigger assessments like those a teacher might give at the end of a chapter, unit or even a semester.

Through assessment, teachers determine what students know already, whether they need additional instruction and when they are ready to move on to new, more advanced material. Assessment also helps teachers ensure that students can apply what they’ve learned.

In the latter half of every school year, students in grades 3-8 and 11 take the Smarter Balanced assessment (the state test), which is called a “summative assessment.” Results from this assessment help school, district and state officials see what students know and are able to do in the areas of math and English language arts. Assessment data is used to understand how students are performing and to inform decision-making regarding improving student learning outcomes.

There’s more to Smarter Balanced than the summative assessment, though. It’s an entire system that also includes interim assessments (which teachers can use throughout the school year) and the Digital Library, an online repository of formative assessment resources available at no cost to all South Dakota public school teachers.  
South Dakota teachers even have a voice in shaping the Smarter Balanced assessment system. A number of our state’s teachers have worked with colleagues from other states (who are also part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) to help develop and build the Smarter Balanced assessment system by writing test items, participating on task forces and committees, and creating resources for the Digital Library.

Starting in the fall of 2017, the Smarter Balanced assessment became even more valuable to South Dakota high school students. As part of our state’s proactive admissions process, students who score at Level 3 or 4 in English and math on the Smarter Balanced assessment are guaranteed general acceptance into the state’s public universities and technical institutes. In this way, the test provides a tremendous value for South Dakota high school students as a college admissions test. We believe Smarter Balanced is a reliable indicator of college readiness, and this is an exciting opportunity to alert students of options they may not have realized were available to them.