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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Test Time!

Happily test times were reduced this year. Rather than two big sessions of testing, there is only one. I believe we have the same number of tests, however the change in scheduling has reduced our need to focus solely on tests, yet there's still considerable time devoted to prepping for the tests.

It's important to many that students do well on tests. As an educator, I like to prepare my students well for these tests. I like to give them every opportunity to do well. What does that mean?

First, it means creating a positive climate for math teaching and learning at the start of the year.

Next, it means teaching al the standards in varied ways that are meaningful. I use the one-two-three approach to most teaching which means one, we start with a review, two, move towards grade-level standards, and three, always include enrichment opportunities which broadens the concept.

After that, it's important that students understand what it takes to do well on the test. Now that we're heading forward to the PARCC test, the following strategies and actions help students to do well:
  • Students take an online and paper practice test. I assess students' results with the test questions and test approach. I create a teaching plan to help every child "fill in the gaps" with regard to strategy and content prior to the test.
  • Students learn how to use scrap paper to assist their work with online tests. We'll talk about and practice a large number of scrap paper folding, writing, and work strategies that support online work.
  • Students will have folders with scrap paper and their computer log-in information. This helps to keep everything organized during the testing. 
  • The room has been rearranged to lend itself to testing and teacher oversight. While educators are not allowed to help with questions, it's necessary to sometimes help with procedural issues with regard to the computers
  • Students practice using the SRSD and RICE problem solving strategies and process including positive self talk.
  • Students understand the following, helpful points:
    • Take your time. Although the test is timed, few to no students ran out of time last year.
    • Double check all calculations. Many young students rush and make simple errors with calculations. It's best to do calculations twice and check with the inverse operation if possible.
    • Read carefully. Write down important words and numbers. Use a small voice to say the numbers as you write them down. Many young children make copy errors and write down wrong numbers.
    • Do your work neatly. Many young children write numbers in a rushed way, and then when they go back to work with them they think it's a different number. O's are often written like 6's, 7's written like 4's, 5's like 6's and more.
    • If you're done early, go back and recheck your work. 
I've charted the lessons and steps ahead leading up to our beginning of May PARCC math tests. Last year our students did well on these tests, so I know our strategies and efforts worked (Note that I understand that it's not our efforts alone that worked as our students are generally well loved, cared for, and academically support at home too). There were remaining areas we could shore up as well, and I'll work to pinpoint those areas as I help students prep.

During the follow six-week window of study, test prep will take center stage. It won't be the "drill and kill" you imagine, but instead the same strategy development, thinking skills, and problem solving that helps students to learn well and work well across disciplines.

After this period, we'll move into a hands-on STEAM approach to math study and learning--an approach that will find us integrating multiple hands-on, collaborative learning, indoor/outdoor learning experiences. We'll be ready for that after this somewhat traditional stretch we're embarking on right now.

How do you help students prepare for the tests ahead? How do you help them navigate this time of the year with confidence? I'm interested in your strategies.