A Quest for Meaningful Test Prep
Teaching to the test seems to be a necessary evil sometimes. Since I teach ELA, I often feel like pulling out old ‘Released Items’ from previous years’ state tests is considered to be the best – and only – way to prepare students for success. When we have mandates from higher up administrators, it’s difficult to find ways around the system to keep reading and writing authentic for students.
I believe there is a better way, and I’m trying to navigate it right now. Some things I’m trying:
1. Think about how you can spice up the dry reading passages from the state test to make it more interesting and relatable for you and your students. For example, I have taken different reading passages and grouped them together in little ‘mini units’ that revolve around one theme for students to think about. That way, while we read, we can think about a larger issue that is applicable to human nature, like animal rights (which is what I’m focusing on right now).
2. Really play up the ‘set, hook and focus’ part of the lesson. Find a short video clip, a newspaper article, or an interesting picture that will make students interested in the general idea of the reading article. For example, tomorrow I’m starting a reading passage called “Nina the Gorilla,” and will be showing students a picture of a gorilla that they will write about before beginning the article. This helps them keep a visual of what a gorilla actually looks like while we read about how Nina is treated.
3. Employ the same strategies that you use with ‘authentic’ texts to the ‘state released’ texts. They’re really not thatdifferent. They are as interesting as you make them. Ask your kids high-level questions while you read, challenge them with an after-reading activity that makes them think about the greater issue of the reading passage, and have them partner read the reading passage so they are challenging each other to find evidence to support their answers from the text.
4. Add rigor to multiple choice questions. Take the options out. Make multiple choice more difficult for students by having them write short answers to the multiple choice questions instead of just choosing between 4 answers – process of elimination can figure that out, make them do the work and thinking!
5. Keep your expectations high! I think test-prep has the potential to take the joy out of teaching, but don’t let it get the best of you! You can still use many of the same strategies you used before you started heavy test-prep – maybe even more – that challenges students to think outside of the box in any subject matter or grade level.
Keep on keeping on, and know that while the test isn’t what it’s all about, it can open up pathways of opportunity for your students in the future – think ACT, SAT college entrance exams – and this state test is a small stepping stone.