Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Transition to the SBAC: Formative Assessment

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 08.21.13

AssessmentPublic school districts across California are working to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with a goal of making a complete transition by the 2014-15 school year. Work areas include the domains of curriculum, instructional strategies, technology, and assessment. In the area of assessment, educators are concentrating on tools and strategies for gauging student progress toward mastering the new standards.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) will provide California and 22 other states with key assessment tools for measuring student progress relative to the Common Core Standards. The first administration of SBAC summative assessments will be in last 12 weeks of the 2014-15 school year. These assessments will feature a mix of questions, including short answer, open response, and performance-based items.

SBAC will also provide interim and formative assessment items. The formative assessments will give educators the opportunity to check student learning at key points during the year. Teachers will gain important information about how their class(es) are progressing and exactly what their students are learning. With this information in hand, they can make adjustments to learning activities, instructional materials, and how classroom time is used with the aim of ensuring the success of all students.

Formative SBAC assessments also have the potential to improve communication among teachers, parents, and students by offering information about whether students are “on track” or in need of additional support.

What is formative assessment?

Teachers use a variety of assessments in K-12 classrooms today—summative, formative, criterion referenced, benchmark, diagnostic, screening, and norm referenced. Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction. It is different from other kinds of assessment because it doesn’t occur at the end of the learning process. Instead, it is integrated into instruction and takes place as ideas and concepts are developing within a lesson or unit. As such, it provides important feedback for both teachers and students.

  • Teachers obtain information that helps them know how to adjust instruction to advance student learning.
  • Students have opportunities to gauge their own learning, ask questions, and improve their understanding.

Formative assessment presumes that students can themselves take action to improve their learning. Via formative assessment, teachers act as guides to help students acquire knowledge and develop skills. This focus on “learning how to learn” is especially significant as we move further into the 21st century because it helps learners become resilient and adaptable in a world of challenges and opportunities.

As educators prepare for full implementation of the Common Core Standards, they are focusing on student learning objectives, content, instructional materials, and linkages between grades. Formative assessment can be seen as a support strategy for this work and a means of conveying a unit’s objectives to students and setting expectations for them. Teachers may want to practice using formative assessments during the 2013-14 school year in preparation for full implementation of the SBAC system in 2014-15.


Practice Tests | Link
Practice tests for English language arts and mathematics can be found at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium website.

MARS Tasks | Link
MARS (Mathematics Assessment Resource Service) is a project of UC Berkeley, Michigan State, and the Shell Centre in Nottingham England. The tasks and their associated rubrics provide a platform for professional development in schools transitioning to the Common Core Standards. The tasks can be used to promote discussion about student work and provide real performance data.

Data Tools | Illuminate Education | Intel-Assess
Some Sonoma County districts are adopting specific data tools to implement formative assessment relative to the Common Core State Standards. Two companies providing these tools are Illuminate Education and Intel-Assess. Districts are using resources from these companies to guide formative assessment and their work in professional learning communities.

Professional Development
SCOE will continue to offer professional development guidance and support for formative assessment as schools prepare to shift to the new testing system in 2014-15.

Blog: Technology for Learners