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Common Questions - Teachers

Why is Iowa switching to a new state assessment in 2017-18?

State tests are an important measure of student learning and a critical part of our work to ensure all students receive a high-quality education. Iowa adopted statewide standards that outline consistent and rigorous expectations for what students should know and be able to do in order to succeed after high school. We must have a state assessment that measures how well students are progressing toward those expectations and reflects what is being taught in classrooms statewide. Better information from an aligned assessment will help set the stage for improved student achievement.

What process did Iowa follow to adopt a new state assessment starting in 2017-18?

A legislatively created Iowa task force, charged with studying options for a new state assessment, recommended the Smarter Balanced Assessments in December 2014 after more than a year of extensive research. Based on the task force’s recommendation, the State Board of Education in November 2015 adopted state administrative rules implementing the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which students will take for the first time during the 2017-18 school year.

What are the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

  • End-of-year assessments customized to meet individual student needs
  • High-quality interim (formative) tests to provide educators a consistent check on student progress throughout the school year
  • An online library of classroom resources available to all K-12 teachers in public schools

What’s different about the new assessments?

The assessments reflect our statewide standards for what students should know and be able to do in math and English language arts, which means the assessments better reflect what’s being taught in the classroom. In addition to subject knowledge, the new assessments will measure complex, real-world skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. The assessments are online and computer adaptive. By adapting to each student, these assessments present an individually tailored set of questions to each student and can quickly identify which skills students have mastered. The assessments provide a more detailed and immediate picture of student learning by providing specific information on which skills students have mastered and where they need additional support. They also help ensure students are on track for the next grade and, eventually, college and the workforce.

What kinds of questions will be on the test?

Questions on the new assessments are in line with the work that students are doing in the classroom. The new assessments include questions that require students to demonstrate their ability to think critically and solve problems. These questions are harder for students to guess the answer to than traditional multiple-choice questions. Iowans are encouraged to review the Smarter Balanced practice tests by visiting:

How much time will students spend on the end-of-year assessments?

Overall, students spend less than 1 percent of classroom time on the end-of-year Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are given during the last 12 weeks of the school year. The assessments include fewer questions. Because they require students to think critically, write essays, and analyze complex problems, the questions take more time to answer than traditional multiple-choice questions. There is no time limit – students will have the time they need to show what they know and can do.

How will teachers use the test results?

The new assessments are not a one-time snapshot. They provide a consistent check on student progress and will allow teachers to measure growth year or over. This comprehensive approach to assessment provides teachers a more detailed and immediate picture of skills their students have mastered. This valuable information will help teachers adjust instruction to provide targeted support to struggling students, as well as appropriately challenging material to keep students engaged.

How will Iowa keep student testing data safe?

Protecting student data and privacy is a top priority. Iowa will retain control over student information, and federal law prohibits the creation of a federal database with students’ personally identifiable information. Any recommended data collection adheres to all federal and state privacy laws, including but not limited to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

What can teachers do to prepare?

Teachers are encouraged to participate in a number of professional learning opportunities made available by the Iowa Department of Education in conjunction with area education agencies and school districts leading up to the first test administration in the spring of 2018.

Teachers can familiarize themselves with the new assessments by accessing practice tools available at:

Also, Iowa will soon have access to an online library of thousands of educator-created classroom resources, including model lessons and professional development.

Who developed the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

The Smarter Balanced Assessments were developed by a consortium of states, including Iowa, guided by the belief that a high-quality assessment system aligned to rigorous academic standards will improve teaching and will help prepare students for success. Thousands of educators across the nation helped build the assessment system, including nearly 150 Iowans.