When people ask me what our district is doing to prepare for the state tests, I say teach the district adopted curriculum aligned to the standards, utilize research-based instructional strategies, administer frequent formative assessments to make teaching decisions, and so on. Nothing out of the ordinary. Things we do as good educators all year long.

It is not necessary to stop instruction to prep for the state tests. However, there are somethings you should do to help you kids get ready. For example - Heather Wolpert-Gawron a teacher published in Teacher Magazine says, "Teach them How to Speak Test

The language used in tests is unlike any other human language or dialect. I’ve been using these special test terms in my own teaching, but it's also important to help students break down the meaning of the more nebulous words that we as educators often take for granted as common knowledge. The word "analyze," for instance, is not easily defined. It's vague and, frankly, a term that many teachers couldn't explain without an occasional "um, it’s like the…" as a lead-in. Students need to know exactly what to do when they see the verb "analyze."

Make a list of the most common words associated with test instructions and discuss what they're directing the test-taker to do. Remember that just telling students to "Read the directions" is not enough if they can't understand the directions."

Besides the obvious, like teaching to the standards and curriculum, what do you do to help prepare students for standardized tests?

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You bring up some good points. If those borderline kids need the tutoring to make it over the Proficient line maybe we need to reconsider the criteria that we use to place students in BSI? That way they would qualify and take advantage of the tutoring.

Also I was just talking to Jay and Kathy about this idea I heard and thought was really interesting...

The Heidi Jacob Hayes (Queen of Mapping) said that on every test or quiz there should be two word problems that ask students NOT TO SOLVE but to just write the math problem (math sentence) that they would solve. This gets them to focus on really figuring out what they question is asking and not just coming up with an answer. Anyone willing to pilot this idea for a few months and let me know what they think. Obviously you would have to model what you want before giving it to the students. Please let me know if you will try it. If it works for you maybe some colleagues would incorporate it.
As an Art teacher, Is there any way I can help prepare the students I have? Are there any picture-related descriptive writing paragraph's or shapes or measurement depending on the grade?
Sarah I love this idea there are definitely things classroom teachers and you as the art teacher could partner on. That would be so powerful. We should try a pilot in one grade to get it going. Research already shows how art enhances learning but tying that to writing or math would be so great. We should both start talking to classroom teachers to see how we could partner. In the younger grades it is often best for students to start their writing in pictures then add their text to that. Could you work that into your math standards? Also tessellations, moving and flipping geometric shapes is a math concept that in some grades (5th) is not done much in Everyday Math. I am wondering if you could work that in?
I love that you are even asking this question. If we are all working together our children will succeed! I know that sounds cheesy - but it is true!
Couldn't Sarah do an explanatory prompt based upon a famous painting?...kind of like a picture prompt, but not really. She could discuss the painting with the students, like an art history lesson. She could tell the story of the painting. We could help make up an explanatory prompt that would fit with Sarah's lesson.
I am at the Hess School almost every week and one thing they do that I think is great is give the students some phys ed related math problem to solve every week. It helps foster the idea that we are all in this together and that math is a necessary life skill not some school subject. Last year Tiffany had the fouth graders review geometry by creating geometry terms by teams. In other words she had two teams and she would tell them to form parallel lines or a right angle. We gave her a list of vocabulary they needed and she turned it into a team building exercise. We accomplished two things at once. The kids loved it and I think it helped them to remember the terms.
Sarah, your class is something that I refer to many times a month without you realizing it...sorry for not mentioning it earlier. I see many of the pieces you have the students create in the hall, then reference them at the appropriate time in class.

Just yesterday, we were learning the area of an irregular figure in the honors geometry class which requires using a grid counting approach. I reminded the students of how you teach them to use a grid with portraits and work within sections at a time. The reference was very helpful for some. There are so many other times this happens when studying the geometry lessons with our seventh graders.
I couldn't agree more with Renee on the borderline students. We have many students who were just below passing, that with a little extra help they could be bumped up to passing. As a classroom teacher you have to cover the current CCCS that need to be taught by testing time, not the end of the year. Therefore I think it is very important to have these students receive extra help, to get them caught up and feeling confident by testing time. The only flaw with this is getting the kids to come. We already struggle getting the BSI students to attend the programs, and now it is another group of students we will have to try to coax into coming. It is a shame it couldn't be required.

I do however think it is important to do some form of "test prep" with students. First they need, as many of you have said, exposure to the different types of questions, vocabulary, etc. They also need strategies to properly answer the different types of questions. I also think that "test prep books" or at least these types of questions are important for the kids to work on. A few weeks before the test we do block out time explicitly for "test prep". My understanding is that the tests are based on the CPI's which should all be "mastered". If by test time, as a teacher who has done frequent assessments, I realize that my students have not mastered a certain CPI, is it not my responsibility to re-teach this before the test? I feel not doing so is setting your students up for failure.
In preparing the LRC Middle School students for the state test, I've found that modeling types of writing has been much more beneficial to the the students. For example if we're doing persuasive writing; I'll introduce and review what it is, go over what needs to be in a persuasive piece and then brainstorm a prompt and model an actual persuasive essy, step by step. Showing students everything from what goes in each paragraph, to using various transition words and making connections. Then students are given a new prompt where they need to complete a new essay independently. I do this with each type of writing within our curriculum (Persuasive, Speculative, Descriptive, Explanatory, etc.) and have found that the majority of students are producing far better writing pieces.
I use several methods to help my students get ready for the NJ ASK. I like to augment my classroom training with programs that give realistic practice. My public library has subscribed to an Online Study Program called LumosTestPrep (www.lumostestprep.com). It is free for patrons of the library and I have asked my students to use this program. It gives them realistic NJ ASK practice tests and additional help.

I have found that students that understand the structure of the test and have practiced on their test taking skills do well.

Good discussion!
Mark
Hi All.... now that testing is over for another year.... some thoughts and questions......

The Animal School: A Fable
by George Reavis

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?
Has testing improved education in your school and district?

Note: This story was written when George Reavis was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s! It is in the public domain and free to use.

mike
Absolutely right on. We shouldn't "teach to the test," but "teach with the test in mind." Teaching academic language, such as analyze, is vital. I have a short and sweet article on how to take standardized tests at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/study_skills/how-to-take-tests/

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