Standardized Tests: How to Help Your Class and School Successfully Pre
Feb 26, 2012 Other 1695 Views
State Standardized Tests! Oh, My! These tests have become increasingly high stakes for teachers and administrators, whose jobs are often kept or lost based on how well the students do on the tests. Most schools conduct some type of organized preparation and test review before the tests are administered. The emphasis of some courses on test preparation and the amount of time spent reviewing for the tests vary according to the views of the administration. At my school the assistant principal informed us in a faculty meeting that "If it's not going to be on the CSAP tests it's not important to teach it." That may seem like a shocking, and even ludicrous, statement from an educator. However these tests create a lot of stress for administrators and he was simply reacting to that stress. So questions arise: Just how much time should be devoted to preparing for these tests? What types of practice and review are most likely to increase test scores?
I think the time devoted to test preparation isn't as important as the method in which the preparation is conducted. Last minute review, consisting of trying to cram content information into students' heads, is seldom effective. To be most effective test preparation for content needs to take place throughout the school year.
What techniques are most effective for giving students practice for actual state tests? This depends on many factors, of course, but the following examples will help increase student scores in most cases.
The most important technique is making sure that course content is correctly presented and learned in the first place. Just covering material and testing it does little to embed the information permanently in student brains. Important material must be fully processed by students in order for retention to occur. It is a mistake to try to "cover" the curriculum at the expense of student understanding. Less truly is more.
To increase learning retention of material covered on the test it's necessary to periodically review the information. One strategy is known as 10/24/7. Important material is brought up again after 10 minutes, 24 hours and 7 days. This can be extended to 1 month later, etc. Content that is repeated and manipulated frequently is most likely to be remembered.
Standardized tests always include critical thinking questions. Here are some strategies that allow students to practice these skills:
Strategy One: Have students individually read a short passage, story etc. Have students pair up. Pairs then determine what are the most important elements of the story or passage and why. Pairs then pair up with another pair and discuss the ideas that each group found. This type of discussion helps improve critical thinking skills and variations of it should be conducted throughout the school year so that students become comfortable with this process.
Strategy Two: Student created letters often appear on state exams. Students need to take a position and write a letter to a business, politician or organization explaining their point of view. This is a perfect time to have students use a simple 5 paragraph strategy: Paragraph 1 is an introduction including the position statement. Paragraphs 2, 3, 4 include a supporting point and example. Paragraph 5 is the summary. I've seen several students on tests who simply write a single short paragraph and think they've sufficiently covered the topic. One way to prepare for this throughout the school year is to frequently ask students to take a position and defend it. This can be done orally as a class. Students can also partner up and each defend a position to the other. Again, the more frequently students do this, the more comfortable they will become.
Strategy Three: Students are often asked on these exams to draw a picture, a graph, a diagram, or a chart as part of answering a question. Unless students are used to doing this, it tends to be confusing and they often just leave the question blank. Again, having them complete these types of drawing regularly during the school year allows them the confidence to know what to do.
No matter what your personal feeling is about the validity of these standardized tests, they are certainly here for the foreseeable future. "Teaching to the test" is not a productive strategy. But including in your curriculum the types of questions they will see on the test allows students to perform at peak level. Good luck to you and your students!