Saturday, March 2, 2013

Slice Two - Lessons from Standardized Test Prep

 Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are challenging ourselves to write a Slice A Day

Our state testing begins Monday. In fifth grade in Illinois we have six tests – three sessions of reading, three sessions of math. This marks my fourteenth year administering the ISAT tests. What I’ve noticed over the years is this – the more I teach, the more I trust myself, the less “test prep” I do.

I’ve always thought it is a bit asinine that this test is supposedly testing all of the standards for a given grade and yet is administered three months before the end of the school year. In my early years of teaching, that would make me panic. Not anymore.

This year the state also decided:
·      To raise all cut-off scores. If a 200 might have been a “meets” for previous years, this year it might be a 220.
·      To add new material in November that needed to be taught by March.
·      To change the format of the final reading test.

In those early years this might have caused me to lose sleep, but not any longer.

I am willing to take one week a year – the week before tests – and teach a mini “unit” on standardized testing. We talk about the types of questions you might find on these tests. Go over some tests taking tips. We look over the practice tests that the state hands out and examine the variety of passages and questions. And we look at our reading extended response.

None of these lessons are exciting or ground breaking. My favorite part of the week? Today. Today I met with every child I teach. We looked over their last practice extended response. Sitting side by side on the carpet in my room – leaning against our picture book shelf – we poured over their writing. Three hours of my day was spent analyzing writing. With each child I was able to point out how their writing has improved – not only this week but since the start of the year. We talked about the passages we had read – a non-fiction passage about bees and a poem about bees as well. The kids shared their thoughts about the upcoming test. Some whispered that they were nervous. I quickly reassured them. Several times our conference about writing morphed into a reading conference, as they just “had” to share what had just happened in the book they were reading.

As I sat with one of my last students, hip to hip, leg next to leg, they pointed out how their foot was at the same spot as mine, that they had grown several inches that year, I paused. I looked up at these big fifth grade bodies splayed across our room, and I nodded. Yes, they have all grown, in more ways than one.