Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Great "Test Prep" Debate

It's officially that time of year... I have put it off long enough... Time to prepare for our end of the year tests. If you know me at all, you know I am not a fan of standardized tests or the preparation that comes along with them.  I was amazed when I moved from New York to North Carolina almost two years ago. I can remember one school that I interviewed in... They were in complete test-prep boot camp. All of the teachers had camo-tees with catchy slogans, the students had just had a "test-prep rally," and all anyone could talk about were the upcoming End-of-Grade Tests. This was completely new to me.... I never once saw this in New York. When I accepted a job at my current school (not the one mentioned above), I vowed never to place that kind of emphasis on a few summative assessments at the end of the year, whether or not my performance as a teacher is evaluated using test scores. 

A part of me feels that if I have successfully taught my students everything they need to know, they will be equally successful when they test. Then again, no standardized test is designed to match the way I teach. My students never encounter a multiple choice question until this time of year. I am, like most of you out there, spend the year assessing with formative assessments and through authentic experiences. So, I have come to realize that I DO need to help them prepare by showing them how to use everything they have learned in order to answer the kinds of questions they will face on a standardized assessment.

Reading Test Talk in My Classroom
At my school, we teach "Test Talk." Glennon Doyle Melton and Amy H. Greene have written an excellent guide, Test Talk, that shows teachers how to embed test preparation into reader's workshop. 

The focus of my unit on Test Talk is not to teach anything new, rather help students recall everything they have already been taught and applying that knowledge to a new genre of reading- The Standardized Test! 

Where to Begin...
Every year, I begin my Test Talk unit a little differently. This year, I began by giving a mini-demand test with three reading passages with corresponding questions (One narrative, one expository, and one poem). I wanted to use this as a bit of a pre-assessment, as this is the first time all school year they have encountered something like this. One thing grabbed my attention right off the bat- Only a select few were previewing the passages before reading. Most students dove right in and began reading. Given all of the time we focused on this, this got me sweating a bit. As frustrating as this was to watch... it gave me a perfect place to start this year.

Launching Lesson: Previewing and Thinking about Genre
To kick off my first Test Talk lesson, I will began my usual discussion about this being just another genre that we need to learn how to read. When reading test passages, we need to read differently. Our purposes for reading will be different. Our purposes for reading will be different. We have to put to use ALL of our existing strategies and learn a few new ones.

With the focus being on previewing, the class and I discuss how we preview a test passage and how we need to ask ourselves:

* What genre is this?
* What am I usually expected to do with texts of this genre?
* What information is important to collect?
* How should I collect this information?

From here, students broke out into small group discussions. Each group was given one of the three genres I mentioned above and were asked to think about and discuss:

* What things am I usually expected to do or pay attention to when I read?
* How might I collect information as I read?

Check out my Test Talk Unit Resources
We shared out our thoughts and I modeled an effective non-fiction preview. From there, students previewed and read a new text independently. Our next steps will be to debrief and discuss our work before practicing with other genres.

Notice how I haven't even mentioned anything about answering questions. Check back in to see the direction I take with this unit this year. 

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