Supporting Teaching and Learning 
During an Unprecedented Year

What a year! Looking back at 2020 comes with mixed emotions, but the truth is, Smarter Balanced made big strides in supporting educators at a time when they needed it most.  

Classroom teaching became remote learning and teachers had to quickly adjust to this new reality. Together with students and parents, educators had to embrace a new reality that included technology challenges, asynchronous instruction, and Zoom fatigue.  

Despite all this, communities rallied and teaching and learning still happened. Smarter Balanced worked hard to support educators with new tools, strategies, and resources in an effort to help teachers understand where their students are in their learning and plan lessons that can support learners when everything is different. 

A student wearing a mask solves equations at a large white board. Text reads, "2020 In Review: Supporting Teaching and Learning During and Unprecedented Year"

Whether remote or in-person, educators and families worked hard to keep students learning in 2020.

A Year of New Resources

During a challenging 2020, Smarter Balanced collaborated with its members and educators to release new tools and supports: 

  • Tools for Teachers: In September 2020, Smarter Balanced launched Tools for Teachers, its new for home instructional supports. The new website includes lessons and activities to support the diverse learning needs of students, formative and accessibility strategies that are effective across different grades and content areas, and professional learning resources. 
  • Interim Item Assessment Portal (IAIP): Educators now have more flexibility with access to interim assessment items through Tools for Teachers. Using IAIP, teachers can search for interim assessments by test name, grade, claim, target and/or standards. 
  • Smarter Annotated Response Tool: A dynamic interface that helps teachers better understand how student writing is scored on Smarter Balanced assessments. 
  • Remote Teaching and Learning Website: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smarter Balanced, in collaboration with members, released the Remote Teaching and Learning Website in April 2020. The website provides suggestions on how to use Smarter Balanced resources. 
  • Smarter Back to School Playbook: In anticipation of the return to a not-so-typical school year, Smarter Balanced released the Smarter Back to School Playbook which describes how educators can use resources such as Tools for Teachers and Interim Assessments, to support high quality instruction using the formative assessment process. 
  • New Instructional Supports Videos: In-depth professional learning videos take a closer look at Smarter Balanced tools to provide educators information they need to get started. 
  • Updated Accessibility Supports: Smarter Balanced is constantly developing new accessibility resources to support diverse learners and this year, this work included accessibility strategies for remote teaching and learning, updates to existing accommodations, and updates to the Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines (UAAG). 
  • Desmos calculator updates: Smarter Balanced and Desmos are proud to offer calculators that are free to students and include cutting edge accessibility features, including new support for braille mathematical codes.  
  • Sample Items Website: Newly released test questions that measure college- and career-ready aligned content and includes the full array of accessibility features were released in 2020. In addition, the ability to export in a printable format was added so educators can use sample questions in more flexible ways. 
  • Smarter Reporting System: The Smarter Reporting System is an online, interactive reporting platform that connects assessment and instructional resources in one place. 
  • Pinterest Channel: Teachers pin lesson plans and create boards to organize classroom ideas so we launched a Pinterest channel to make it even easier to find Tools for Teachers lesson plans, accessibility strategies, and professional learning resources. 

How did all this work get done? In addition to Herculean staff effort, we hosted many virtual workshops and meetings to gather hundreds of educators to build instructional resources, review items, discuss policy, and plan for the future. While we missed seeing our educators in person, we were able to leverage technology and creative event planning to host engaging, productive work sessions.  

While we missed seeing our educators in person, we were able to leverage technology and creative event planning to host engaging, productive work sessions.  

Marking an Anniversary: 10 Years Smarter

Smarter Balanced - 10 Years Smarter
Smarter Balanced marked 10 years with a new logo, color palette, and tagline.

Smarter Balanced also marked a milestone anniversary amid the most tumultuous school year in memory. While it was difficult to feel truly celebratory in 2020, Smarter Balanced paused to look back over the last 10 years of work in support of teaching and learning, and to look forward to our work of supporting equitable access to education. To mark Smarter Balanced’s 10th Anniversary, we: 

  • rebranded with a new forward-looking logo and approachable color palette augmented by a suite of new templates for internal use to ensure consistency across our materials, 
  • launched a new public website that streamlines content and makes it easier for members to find what tools and resources are available in their state or territory, 
  • developed an interactive timeline of our history that tells the story of innovation, educator supports, and the power of the consortium, 
  • produced a series of videos to thank educators for their collaboration and highlight the impact of our work among consortium members, and  
  • launched an intensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program within our organization to better represent the populations we serve and to further our commitment to improving equitable access to education.   

System Improvements

Lastly, while largely invisible to the outside world (as it should be), Smarter Balanced made some significant improvements to systems that make access to tools and technical information much more efficient. These were big lifts for our internal teams and in some cases, required intensive coordination with members and member service providers: 

  • migration of login to Single Sign-On for all Smarter Balanced members, centralizing educator login for our tools to one ID and password, 
  • launch of technical documentation about Smarter Balanced assessments in HTML format which makes files more accessible and easier to search, and 
  • redoubled efforts to ensure websites, applications, manuals, guides, and other documents are accessible. 

We look forward, optimistically, to 2021 and a return to some semblance of normal in schools, workplaces, and life in general. We are already planning a year of updates, improvements, new resources, and tools to support educators’ instruction and students’ learning. Teachers, thank you for your ongoing collaboration (virtually!) to ensure we have the highest quality supports available and that no matter what, we can keep students learning.