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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One thing that I do that is very simple (and probably also obvious!) throughout the year is always have the students TRY a problem before receiving ANY help from me. They must have made an effort to figure out the directions, picture, vocabulary, etc. and come up with some kind of solution before they can recieve help. Many times, they are able to come up with the correct answer or at least be "on the right track" without any help from me. This prepares them by giving them the confidence that even when they're not 100% sure how to do something, they can at least get something down and not leave those problems completely blank. It also prepares them to be in situation where the teacher can't help them no matter how confused they are by the problem and not "shut down." Like many others, especially with a small group of students, I think I sometimes have the urge to always jump in and provide scaffolding when sometimes the MOST helpful thing might be to just step back and give the student time to process and problem solve on their own.
You brought up a really important point! The research on the stereotype theory shows that students often perform as expected on assessments. When a teacher or other invested adult tells students they are going to do well they often live up to that expectation. Simply telling a student they can do it - has been shown to improve test scores. I guess confidence is everything!
Another thing I think about during testing is the environment. Research shows that students perform better on assessments if tested in the environment in which they learned or are learning. There is always a soft buzz (ok, sometimes a loud one) in the younger grades. Students become comfortable with this "white noise." Then we ask them to be silent and sit still for long stretches at a time during testing. Any thoughts about destressing the environment? (I've used vanilla scented room freshners in the past for a calming effect.)
I think Emily is practicing good teaching by having the students take the time to investigate, think, problem solve the question before assisting them in the solution. I think perserverance is a learned skill, one which many students lack. By having them work on the problem beforehand, she is teaching them to be independent. And, that dovetails with your comment about encouraging students with positive feedback. That works with what we are reading about feedback, Self-esteem is built on positive feedback which is specific and focused on the task at hand. When Emily gives them time to independently work on a problem, she is giving them time to understand what they do know.
Wow this is a really great discussion. John Chase direct messaged me with some resources check them out when you have time: (You'll have to look at it at home - it is on my space)
The students own responses offer "mini-lessons" helping to encourage and motivate each other,,,


Because I teach special ed., I have had to enlist the help of my middle school colleagues ( Margie, Eileen, Jon, and Kristen) to help prepare our resource room Language Arts students for the state assessments. They were a huge help in my understanding of the expectations of the ASK. I have found that teaching kids what is expected, then practicing it regularly has been extremely beneficial this year. One of my goals for all of my students this year is that they are able to answer an open-ended question in response to text. In the first marking period,I taught them explicitly how to answer these kinds of questions, and we even color-coded the different requirements of the response. Since then, I have given them open-ended questions, related to whatever book we are reading for classwork assignments and on tests. My eighth grade students, especially, have excelled; I have never had students able to answer open-ended questions sufficiently, but NOW I DO!!!! YAY!!
After the new year, I started assigning NJASK type questions/worksheets from previous years "Measuring Up NJ" books.

An Unfortunately trend I notice was that my book smart kids (those who studied outside of class to achieve high grades) were having tons of problems with format, wording, and directions. Where as my street smart (those students who didn't put effort in their classwork yet still achieve good grades) fared much better.

Taking this into consideration, I have tried to incorporate this format in my teaching style, but I haven't found something comfortable for me, at the same time, works for the students.

I think, next year we should really look into investing into some type of measuring up book, and maybe bi-weekly integrate them in our lesson. Another possibility we may want to look into would be splitting advisory from one day of NJASK prep and the other an advisory type period. A third possibility would be to incorporate reading and writing across the curriculum; as an expected part of our weekly lesson plans.
Thanks for your input and great ideas.
I think it is important to integrate test type questions all year. A couple everyday as bell work or as homework. We should be able to do this without purchasing a "test prep book". There are plenty of test questions available from NJ and other states.

I like your idea of using homeroom time one day a week for testing skill work. As for incorporating reading and writing across the curriculum, I assume that we are already doing this. We may need to make this more formal by requiring it to be highlighted in lesson plans.
It isn't necessarily the test questions that students have been struggling with, but more with reading and analyzing pictures and graphs. I feel like I am wasting some much paper even if I only copy a class set of questions and have the students put answers on a separate sheets a paper.

With reading and writing across the curriculum, I think a more universal consistent structure throughout all classes would results in higher test scores. In science we often write narratives with our lab reports, and we tried current events for a while; unfortunately, those students who need the help rarely do their work no matter what persistent measure you take. Those students who do their assignments aren't the ones that are in need.
I am always concerned with the open ended math questions when preparing for the ASK. Krystal and I are careful to include at least one on each test, as well as, one a week for practice. We noticed that many students (especially our advanced group) had trouble explaining the way in which they solved the problem…they just “knew the answer” and didn’t realize that was not enough.

I have also found that it helps for the students to realize that a partial answer can still receive points in open ended format. The positive attitude of “I can do something, even if I’m unsure of the whole” has benefitted all my students.

Finally, last year, I added a bingo-like game called MATHO twice a month for review of major vocabulary terms. They write the given terms in the squares and have to match the definition clues to the terms. The students love it and are constantly reviewing the terms they will see in May.
One thing I like to do is practice open ended questions in all subjects all year. I tell the students that if they ae writing in MAth to use "math" words or if in science use "science" words. I will model doing this and remind them that they can earn some points even if they don't get all the points for a question. I also tell them not to panic and give up if they come to a question they don't know they answer to as there are probably questions further in the test that they do know the answers to. That way if they come to a queston they have trouble with it will not ruin the rest of the test for them.
Since my first year of teaching I have taught in a testing year. Now every year is a testing year, so there is no getting away from it. I also think that testing is here to stay for many years to come, unless one of us can come up with a better way to assess our students and hold teachers accountable. Any suggestions? portfolios-maybe?
Any how, I find that there are always a few things that are tested that are not covered by our curriculum before the test is given. It has been my practice and the practice of my colleagues to make sure those things get covered before the test is taken. One of the old strategies that I still enjoy with the open ended math questions is to say it with pictures, words, and numbers. Having the students answer the problem in all three ways shows that they truly understand the problem and how it is solved. Even if they do not get the answer right it shows the person grading the test that they thought through the problem.
For the writing prompts, I try to cover test taking strategies and how to answer prompts that are seen on the test for a few weeks during writing. This does not consume a lot of the writing lessons throughout the year because the concepts that are taught through their daily writing are also applied to the test.
I feel one of the most important parts of giving the test is letting them know they are ready for it. I do not plan any test prep a week before and I tell them not to worry about it I know they are ready. This message gets repeated again every morning before the test begins.
Suggestion: It would be nice to have a tutoring program after school that is based on the borderline students that could go either way. Not the BSI student but the students who with just a little extra help may make the difference between a passing or non passing score. I found in the past that the students who just passed the 3rd grade test need that little bit of extra help to get them to pass the fourth grade one. Has anyone else seen this?



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