SBAC – What is it? How do I talk with my 3rd Graders about it? How can I prepare my students for end of the year testing?

What is the SBAC test? For those of you who may not be familiar, the SBAC is the Smarter Balanced Achievement Consortium. It is a series of tests that measure students’ progress on Common Core skills. It involves lots of connected thinking.

Their website is

Who takes the test? According to the SBAC’s website, there are currently 13 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington) plus the US Virgin Islands and Bureau of Indian Education, that participate in SBAC testing.

Why should I talk with my class about the Smarter Balanced Assessment? For those of you who have been through the test with your class, it can feel scary and intimidating for third graders since they haven’t taken it before. It is also a very long, fairly complicated test. But it doesn’t have to be a painful experience!

I’m not a member of the Smarter Balanced staff, but as a teacher who has had 7 years of experience, I hope I can share some helpful tips, and a freebie with all 10 tips to post on a bulletin board, etc. .

You will want to tell your students about what makes this test different than the average test they will take in class. One huge difference is that this test is given online. That means LOTS of typing.

And hopefully it will help answer the question: How do I prepare for the SBAC English language arts test?

Tip #1: Practice typing with your students.

ALL the time!!! Whenever you can! With whatever projects you can. There is nothing more frustrating thing for a third grader than sitting down and knowing the answer, but struggling with how to get it onto the computer screen. Or not having enough stamina to be able to adequately finish the SBAC English language arts test.

Your students will need to know a lot of tech skills (how to capitalize, scroll down, etc). The testing format is very different and has many helpful tools, screens, options. But these are not helpful if you don’t go over them in class.

Tip #2 Take the time to let students “play” around with the SBAC practice tests.

There are several options for practice tests you can do as a class or at home. This is terrific for your nervous kiddos who need a little more guidance or help figuring out the layout of the test.

Both parents and teachers can go to SBAC website and find tons and tons of information, practice examples, etc.

Tip #3 Teach your students that there may be more than one correct answer.

The SBAC frequently has multiple correct answers! This tends to always throw my third graders for a loop. We practice this concept all year long. My daily spiral math review (see link below) purposely practices it, and yet I still have kiddos in February having a light bulb moment when they realize that they can choose more than one answer.

If you need something for Math Review, here is the one I referenced 🙂

3rd Grade Spiral Math

Another super important thing to know is how they will be scored. Many of the questions ask for part a and part b. They can also say things like choose all that apply or all the best choices. But the tricky thing is that if there are three correct answers and they only choose two, it will typically be marked wrong and the student will receive zero points.

Tip #4 Take the time to explain to your students the overall look/structure of the test.

You might be wondering: How many SBAC tests do students take? It’s actually a tricky question because there are different tests (interim vs. summative). At the end of the year test (summative) most students complete one test, but it is actually made of 4 parts. In case you are not familiar, these are the 4 parts.

1. Math CAT – This test is typically about 30 questions long. It is an adaptive test, which means the better the student does, the harder the questions get. This can freak students out because they will likely receive problems they have no clue how to do! But not to worry, if you explain that it’s actually a good thing. I like to tell my students that it’s like trying to level up on a video game and then students tend to understand that it’s okay to not know all the answers. This test involves lots of computation, multiple part questions, and the need to read graphs, charts, etc.

2. Math Performance Task – This test wants to know the why behind your math. You might think of it as the show/explain your work section. This is why it’s soooo important as teachers that we are asking students to explain their reasoning and not just being okay with a correct answer. In this test, each problem builds on other parts. So even though this test is only 3-4 questions long, it has many parts within each question and lots of deep thinking. It also means if students aren’t careful and race through, they could miss the whole point of the test. It involves a LOT of typing.

3. ELA CAT – This is a combination of reading, writing, and listening. It is normally about 30 questions long. It frequently includes very long passages and lots of inference skills. It also includes many questions asking you to answer both parts in order to get it correct.

4. ELA Performance Task – The last type of test typically involves students reading two sources or long pieces of writing. They are then given 2-3 in-depth questions that are asking students to reference/cite the text and do lots of in depth thinking. They include part 1 (2-3 questions). Then they have to do part 2, which normally asks them to write an essay. Now this is where it gets tricky. They typically ask for 2-3 paragraphs.

Tip #5 Show students many different formatted problems.

That means asking them to do multiplication within a multiplication chart where only one section is shown. Or looking at a scaled bar graph where they have to use multiplication to figure out the answer to a two step word problem. Vary the format!!!

Tip #6 Make your students explain their why.

They may fight you on it, but the hours of showing their work, explaining to their classmates, will pay off. In class, I’ve accomplished this by asking students to start “teaching” our daily spiral math review, to their peers, as soon as possible. So they go to the board and explain how they solved it. I will typically walk around while they are solving and ask students who solved correctly if they want to “teach” #2, etc. As the year progresses, I also purposely choose a few incorrect answers that prompt great discussions or are common misconceptions.

Tip #7 Make your students explain why someone else’s answer is wrong.

Obviously you wouldn’t want to start with this day 1, but you will want to build in times in which you and your students purposely solve something incorrectly. That’s because students have to be able to explain why someone else’s answer is incorrect.

One way I’ve done this is by purposely solving something incorrectly. I tell the students it is incorrect. Then I ask them to tell me why. Let me tell you, there is great power in being able to “politely” prove your teacher is wrong.

Tip #8 Make your students read long passages.

I wish I could say I’m kidding when I tell you how many of my students genuinely thought they could answer the questions without reading the passages. EVERY YEAR, I had multiple kids who would sheepishly shrug when I asked if they read the passage. Or who told me something like, “Well, I read part of it.” Ugh! Face palm moment. Your students really need long passages to build up the stamina to read these passages.

That’s a lot!!!!

Tip #9 Have your students do long pieces of writing that they have to proofread and go through multiple times.

Proofreading is a really hard skill for third graders. And many think an essay is 3-4 sentences long. Work with your students on long, full-length pieces so the SBAC isn’t the first time they’ve seen something like this.

I’ve found it’s helpful to have students write everything out ahead of time on paper and then type. This helps them to not be having to think about multiple things at the same time.

Tip #10 Practice ahead of time with interim tests and practice tests.

You will want to look through the SBAC portal long before your students take the test and assign several interim assessments. These can be both the full length practice test as well as individual parts of each test.

I’ve found that giving one part (for example Geometry) and then reviewing the data to be super helpful. I’ve loved doing this feature too, as a pre and post test. For example giving the test during the Geometry unit in order to really see what I’m missing, who I need to work with, who needs an extension, etc.

Hopefully as a teacher, this gives you a better idea of what to do to help your students be more successful and less stressed as they take the SBAC.

If you find this information helpful, I’m also linking my two bundles in my TPT store that practice the Math Performance Task (PT) and the ELA Performance Task. These are sets of practice tests you can print out or do electronically to help your students be more confident and ask questions.

ELA Performance Task

Year Long Math Review Bundle

Want the freebie????

Click this link to get my how to talk to students pdf:

Or this picture:


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