Smarter Balanced Assessments

State-Mandated Assessments

Washington State requires all districts to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments and the Washington Comprehensive Assessment for Science (grades 5, 8, & 11).

These online assessments are designed to measure how well students are meeting academic standards designed to better prepare them for college, career and life.

WHO Students in grades 3 to 8 and 10 (and 11th in Science)
WHAT Smarter Balanced (SBAC) and WA Comprehensive Assessment for Science (WCAS)
WHEN Generally taken in April and May
SUBJECTS English language arts (ELA), Math and Science

REPORTING Parents will get paper score reports from the state in the fall.

HOW IT WORKS: Assessment in two parts

Both the English language arts and math assessments are each organized into two sections:

1. Computer Adaptive Questions: Series of selected response and short answer questions, estimated to take 1.5-2 hours. This part of the assessment is computer adaptive and the difficulty adjusts based on how the student is doing. This helps to get a more precise measure of the student's knowledge and ability.

2. Performance Task: Real-world scenario requiring multiple steps (and extended writing in language arts), estimated to take 1-2 hours.

The assessment window is open from March 7 to June 3, 2022 for most students across the state. Tests are untimed and can, for the most part, be administered over multiple days. Students who are absent from testing will take part in make up testing within the testing window.

HOW TO PREPARE: Advice for families

Our curriculum is aligned to the standards and daily classroom instruction is the most effective preparation for our students. We want students to have the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and are able to do, we don't want an excessive amount of "test prep" going on. As access to digital tools has increased we continue to engage students in practice. In Tahoma, students begin learning keyboarding skills in grade 1 with Type to Learn. Teachers also familiarize students with the online test format through brief training tests and some of our teachers take advantage of the Smarter Balanced interim assessments to give students a look at a practice test and get a quick read on student performance.

Students tend to perform best when they are well fed and well rested. No additional family preparation is necessary other than a positive attitude and growth mindset.

Smarter Balanced & WCAS requires complex thinking

Evidence: Students will not be able to simply skim-read or answer writing prompts with only personal opinion. The assessments demand close reading and evidence-based responses.

Rigor: Students will not be able to rely as much on process-of-elimination. The assessment includes some multiple choice with more than one answer as well as other demands for higher-level thinking.

Authenticity: It won't be enough to apply memorized formulas to a set of numbers out of context. Smarter Balanced asks students to apply math concepts to real-life situations, often requiring multiple steps.

Writing: Writing is assessed at all tested grade levels, with extended writing in English language arts. Math and Science include some short-answer writing.

Smarter Balanced is computer-based

Interactive: More than just multiple-choice, students may be asked to drag-and-drop answers, complete charts or highlight evidence.

Adaptive: Assessments conform to ability; questions become more or less challenging for each student depending on answers.

Supportive: The online platform offers supports for all students, such as built-in calculators, highlighters, etc., and more specific accommodations for students with special needs.

math drag-and-drop item


Schools are expected to receive scores electronically within a month of the last assessment completed at that school, and schools will need time to distribute to families. The Smarter Balanced score reports will allow families to chart students' grade-level growth over the years. Score numbers will range from about 2,000 to 3,000, with achievement levels from 1-4. Teachers and community members helped set these levels using data from 2014 field tests involving more than 3 million students.

REPORTING: Measuring growth and planning for the future

The assessments measure growth to see if students are on-track to meet the college and career readiness standard. For more information and a glimpse into the work from Ready Washington and how the reports might be useful to students and families see their graphic. Ready WA graphic

Families of high school students

The State of WA and the Federal Department of Education require that districts administer the SBAC assessments to high school sophomores and the WCAS to juniors. Meeting standard on the SBAC ELA and Math is one method high school students can satisfy Graduation Pathway requirements.


Refusal to participate in state testing

In Tahoma, we have had very few families refuse to participate in state testing. Families who refuse to allow their children to participate in assessments, including SBAC and WCAS, must submit the district refusal form annually in writing, signed and dated, to go in the student's permanent record file. We ask all our principals to talk personally with any parent requesting to refuse testing for their child.  We want to be sure our parents are basing their decision on accurate information about testing in Tahoma.

Refusal forms are submitted to the school principal. Here are implications of refusals:

  • Students who do not participate will receive a "zero" score on the assessment and no score report for teachers or families to view.
  • A zero is factored into the overall testing scores, thus not giving an accurate measure of the individual school and district results.
  • Teachers will not receive results that could be used as a tool to measure the student's academic growth.
  • Families will not receive results that will enable them to chart the student's growth over time.
  • Students who do not participate will receive supervision but not instruction during assessment time.
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