Test Prep Doesn’t Have to Be Overwhelming
Testing is only a few short weeks away now. Whichever testing Consortium (SBAC) or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is in charge of developing the tests, schools across the country are likely to begin holding additional meetings, signing legal documents replete with security warnings, and sending out robocalls containing such wise counsel as “Get sleep.”
Test preparation typically takes the form of practice questions, daily drills at the beginning of class, or, in the worst-case scenario, a complete halt to the curriculum to administer entire packets of daily test questions. I recently conducted some research to determine how much time we devote to studying for exams. While it has been reported that it takes more than 20% of the school year in some cases, some teachers have stated that it takes as much as 50%. That is, in my opinion, an excessive amount of time.
However, I believe that you can have your cake and eat it too (or something like that). You don’t have to completely halt your teaching to prepare for standardized tests; a few simple strategies, combined with effective instruction, can result in some effective test preparation without taking away from valuable classroom time.
USE TECHNOLOGY IN A TARGETED WAY
If you don’t like interim assessments, I believe you can design lessons within your content that give students more authentic practice in how to take our new online tests, which I believe you can do. As an illustration:
To read the text aloud to students, some teachers provide them with the option of using a tool that does the reading for them. Students should be taught to look for this tool on different assignments before they even sit for a test to ensure they are prepared. Instruct them on how to recognize the typical icons that represent this function. Incorporate Read&Write for Chrome into your lessons, and have students access it so that they can trigger the reading of documents to them.
Educators should use a variety of tools when developing lessons that require students to digitally highlight phrases or select terms and move them to different areas of a document. If students aren’t comfortable using these types of tools in class, they aren’t going to be comfortable using them when it comes time to take a test.
Produce Interactive Files for Students: Online tests are simply documents that contain hyperlinks to other documents. They include text to read, videos to watch, and images to view, and they instruct students to click on, write about, drag to, and perform other actions as indicated. Create some assignments that use this type of multimedia information delivery system to deliver information.
Consider that our digital natives are not necessarily familiar with the digital tools that they will need to succeed on their online tests.
TEACH THEM TO SPEAK TEST
The language used in the tests is unlike any other language or dialect that you have ever heard. Take the more ambiguous terms that we as educators tend to take for granted and break them down into their constituent parts. Taking the word to analyze as an example, it is difficult to define. Because it’s vague, and many teachers couldn’t define it without starting with “Um, it’s like…” or something similar,
Make a list of the words that appear the most frequently in test instructions. It’s important to remember that simply telling students to read the directions will not suffice if they are unable to comprehend the directions.
STUDY YOUR DATA AND MODEL HOW TO USE IT FORMATIVELY
Don’t be afraid to conduct your own data analysis. Make use of it to increase the efficiency of your preparations. Examine and comprehend the information about your previous and current students. It is not what you have yet taught that should guide your lesson planning, but rather what the data indicates they do not understand. Combine this with the knowledge of what you already know you need to work on and concentrate on improving those areas where you are weak. Spend your time focusing on what your students don’t understand and what might not come naturally to you, rather than on what they’ve already accomplished or what you’ve already covered with ease in your previous classes.
Show them the data and ask them to set their own goals.
Ownership is a significant factor in achieving success. Have each student look over their previous results and set goals that they all agree to strive to achieve.
Break everything down into manageable pieces. If students realize that just one or two more questions answered correctly could have elevated them to a higher category, they can set measurable goals in the form of an informal contract, a bar graph, or a reflection paragraph to motivate themselves. It’s important to remember that the goal of “doing better next time” cannot be achieved without first defining better.
SHOW THEM THE DATA AND SET INDIVIDUAL GOALS
When I was teaching remedial students, I once inquired as to what went through their minds when they were taking tests. Their responses were both frustrating and depressing to hear. Many people admitted that they were unable to continue when faced with a wall of text. The number of students who succeed would increase if every teacher encouraged students to use just one strategy to help them when they were about to give up on something. Here are some strategies that you can share with others:
To ensure that they are tackling small bites of text at a time, teach them to chunk text.
Teach them how to break down sentences into their constituent parts so that they can more easily distinguish between the subject and the predicate in their minds.
Teach them how to visualize the concept or gist of a passage by showing them examples.
Instruct them on how to draw on prior knowledge or make connections between different parts of the material. It takes time and repetition to instill this type of thinking in many children; we must demonstrate to them that they already possess far more knowledge of our subject matter than they realize.
There are numerous literacy strategies available, and every teacher, regardless of subject matter, should become proficient in encouraging at least one of them.
GIVE THEM STRATEGIES FOR WHEN THEY WANT TO GIVE UP
When it comes time to take the test, there is nothing you can do but say, “You’re ready.” Students already possess a skill that will help them perform well on these tests: educated guesswork. And after years of schooling and your guidance, they have gained some proficiency in doing so. All they have to do now is believe in themselves.
Is it always successful? Without a doubt, this is not the case. Because after all, there isn’t any such thing as a book for students called The Secret that claims that if you just think “proficient” hard enough, you’ll ace every test. Spending some time on countering all of the negative feedback your students have received about themselves, their school, and the assessments is what I’m referring to in this context.
One year, I asked my students to write a Golden Line, which was word of encouragement for their peers to achieve success. It was on a flashcard that they finalized their line, which they taped to their desks so that the testing group could see it the next day. Here are a few examples of their lines:
“I intend to approach the exam as if the answers were second nature to me.”
“I’m going to show up to school prepared and ready to fight like a cowboy in a showdown.”
“You can throw bullets and knives at me with your difficult questions, but I will dodge them and come out on top triumphantly.”
“Failing is not an option for me, and passing is the only way I can achieve success.”
“The only thing that is feeding the test’s power over the students is their fear of it.”
There is indeed no magic bullet when it comes to preparing students for tests, but there is magic in the room when a teacher says with assurance, “You’ve worked hard, and this is just a way to show others what I already see every day.” I have no reason to be concerned, and you should not be either. “You’re all set.”