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Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Next Leg: MCAS Tests

The next leg of the school year is focused on MCAS tests. Fifth graders will take six tests--two in science, two in math, and two in English language arts. This test season will last for four weeks for the fifth graders, and we'll do all we can to support their best effort and test taking skill.

Whether you agree with the tests or not, it's our job to administer the state tests and prepare students for them. We've done the teaching, and now we'll focus on finesse, apt test strategy, and following the test directives during these weeks.

What does this entail?

Finesse
Since I take the lead with the math teaching, I'll focus the last teaching days leading up to these tests on a number of problem solving activities that help students to revisit essential concepts with model making, calculations, and explanations. Students will also use old MCAS tests to practice and take an online practice test.

Test Taking Strategy
Since I've given these tests for years, I've noticed via score analysis a number of test taking strategies that work including the following:

  • Take your time, this isn't a timed test and those that rush typically don't do as well.
  • Do what you know first as that will warm up your brain, and then go back to the problems you are less sure about. 
  • If you don't know, make an educated guess--don't skip problems. 
  • Read carefully. Highlight key words and turn number words or complex words into digits, calculations, pictures or easy to understand synonyms.
  • To better understand word problems, change the name of the main person to your name--that will help you to step into the problem. 
  • Check over your work, sometimes students make careless errors
  • Be explicit with your answers--the people correcting the open response questions don't know you and they will be looking for right answers that are easy to read and clear.
  • Know multiple choice strategy: Before looking at the answer choices, figure out the answer yourself, then and only then look at the answer choices -- two answer choices will be far from right, one will be close, and one will be the right answer. If the answer choices include equations or expression--evaluate those and write the solutions on the paper before choosing the right answer(s).
  • Sometimes there will be more than one right answer to a question. 
  • Get plenty of rest during test weeks.
  • Bring nutritious snacks, when your brain does deep intellectual work, your body thinks you're running a marathon so you get very hungry. Bring good protein snacks and plenty of water to help you do your best.
  • Make time for play and fun after school and on the weekends as that frees up your brain for better learning and test taking.
  • Most of all use the test as a chance to show off all you know and do your best. If you don't know something and get something wrong it simply means that we have to teach it to you better and/or more--these tests also, in part, test our curriculum and programs.
Compliment Tests with Engaging Hands-On and Peaceful Activities
When students are not testing, we'll fill the time with engaging hands-on activities such as practicing for the play, completing science explorations, project work, and reading. This is a good compliment to the rigor that the tests demand.

On Monday, I'll tell students that the next four weeks are devoted to test prep and taking the tests. I'll tell them that it's best to do their best so that the tests do reflect what they can do and what they know related to the tests. I'll note that the more we know the truth about their learning, the better we can teach them and that it's always best in any endeavor to do your best because then you can look back and feel proud of who you are and what you did. 

Following test season as I've noted below the curriculum takes a plunge into lots of hands-on, collaborative, engaging learning endeavor such as the fifth grade play, the cardboard challenge, the global change makers project, environmental science explorations, Field Day, and end year celebrations which is a terrific way to bring a year of learning and teaching to a close. Onward.