Getting First Graders Ready for Standardized Testing & Evaluations
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
Let’s begin with the basics. First graders first have to get used to “testing.” It’s a hard concept, but formal and informal tests will be part of their
Introducing the Concept
To get students used to the structure they'll eventually encounter on tests, I begin the year doing a multiple-choice question on the board about ANYTHING. It can be about the weather or what color I am wearing that day. I start this on day one. I have a question on the board with four answer choices. We do it together during morning meeting until the children are comfortable with it. They then begin to do them on their own as part of the morning work. The multiple-choice questions get more challenging and become subject related as the year progresses.
During our morning meeting, we discuss how to pick answers. I work on strategies for finding the right answer when you just don’t know the answer. We look at the choices and pick the one that doesn’t belong with the others. We focus on how to become good "guessers" when you have to take a chance. After January, I start adding “none of the above” because they LOVE that answer choice. They need to get used to seeing it and knowing that it doesn’t mean that’s the answer to choose.
Integrating Standardized Testing Formats With Class Assignments
Most of us have the good old spelling test. I begin with school year with the traditional test. I call out the words, use it in a sentence, and then they write it down. That last step is important so that they know how to write the words correctly. Sometime during the spring, I will introduce the multiple-choice spelling test. They are given three incorrect choices of how to spell the word and one correct choice. I do not use this every week; however, I do rotate that style of test in. I give the pre-test on Thursday and the written on Friday; by the end of the school year, I use the multiple-choice test for one and the written for the other. It also helps meet the needs of students with different learning styles.
At the beginning of the year, we do a lot of practice testing together. We will read questions together and answer together. I slowly wean them off. I want to teach my kids how to succeed at testing and hopefully they will not begin their school careers with test anxiety. For the oral learner, I have a teacher’s assistant take the child out of the room and do the test orally. Some kids just need the chance to read aloud until they get the hang of it. Our goal is to have the students comfortable and able to test in the classroom quietly by the spring.
I also use the timer regularly in the classroom, not just for testing. I will have fun movement activities using the timer. For example, I may use the timer and give them one minute to tie their shoes. There’s no negative consequence if they don’t get it. They will start practicing though to beat the timer. I use the timer during reading time. I use the timer when we are playing a game or doing a puzzle. I use the timer when we are working. It’s not to keep a rigid classroom; it’s to work on completing tasks in a timely manner so that when the big achievement test days come, they are not stressed out by the concept of a timed test. If they are used to the timer, it doesn’t disturb them at a time that counts.
Ok, so enough about standardized testing, how about grades and evaluations? I live with a checklist in my hands throughout most of the day. As I walk around the room or do activities with the children, I note who is able to do the task with no help, who needed a little help, who needed me the whole time, etc. I like to use rubrics, so I create them giving the children 4 (it’s an A), 3, 2, 1, based on what the checklist shows. It’s a way to have a grade that’s based on their own ability and it allows me to track students as they show improvement.
I also like to give the students a chance to grade themselves. I use critiques in the classroom where they evaluate how they did, what they learned, and how they behaved during the assignment. At the beginning of the school year, we start with smiley faces. We move into using words and then on to sentences. I like to keep a board with “evaluating words” so that we don’t hear the same things over and over. They love taking ownership in their class time.
Incorporating Fun Activities
If you've read through any of my other articles and lessons, you know that I have to include games! I love to use Tic-Tac-Know to review information we have learned. I use masking tape to lay out a tic-tac-toe board on the floor. I break them into two teams. I hang laminated “x” and “o”s around their necks. Each child will get a chance to answer a question about what we are learning. If they cannot answer it, they may ask their team (and yes, I keep up with this too on the checklist). If they get the answer right, they take a spot on the board.
I also like to use baseball. I draw the board out on the white board or sometimes I set up the room with bases. Once again, I break them into two teams and when their team is up to bat, they can choose which question they want (first base, second, third, or home run). Obviously, the level of difficulty of the question depends on what kind of "hit" it is. Each student is given three tries (strikes)to answer it on their own (yes, I keep up with this too on the handy-dandy checklist). If they get it right, they move to that base.
My overall philosophy is that the key to all testing is to keep the children where they feel comfortable. By the time their tests roll around, they are used to being timed, they have a good foundation to make educated guesses when necessary, and they've participated in a continuous review of the content, which keeps the information fresh in their minds when it comes time for a test.