Preparing for High Stakes State Testing
- Grades: 1–2
In California, we do our state testing in May, but we begin reviewing and planning for it now. Second grade is the youngest grade to take state tests in California, and we take it very seriously. I hope that you will find some helpful testing tips for students and teachers in this post.
Photo Credit: Blueberries/iStockphoto
In the district where I teach, there is a huge push for kids to do well on state tests. At my school, we only have kindergarten through 2nd grade, but we also have six or seven classes at those grade levels and about five hundred students. The pressure is especially high since we will only test one grade level, and that score is directly reflected in the API score that's published in the newspaper. So I've given testing quite a bit of thought. Here are some tips to help you get you and your kids ready for your state tests.
Before the Test
During the state test, we are required to move students to discourage cheating. So early in the year, I introduce "Testing Positions." Whenever we have a math test, spelling test, or other assessment, we go to Testing Positions. The places change every month when we change desk formations and jobs, but the kids really stay focused in Testing Positions.
I have about ten areas in the classroom that do not have a person next to them, so every other student in the normal desk formations has a special testing area to go to. These areas face the wall, my horseshoe table, my volunteer worker's desk, or my teacher's desk. I have whoever's left just pull their desk forward or back from the group. This way every student has space on either side of them. Each student also gets a privacy shield to protect their answers from prying eyes.
The state test is filled with tons of questions, especially in the math section, where the students are required to take notes on scratch paper and work out the problem outside of the test booklet before bubbling in the answer on the test booklet. Young kids struggle with using a separate paper and with picking out the important information while listening without visual clues.
When I review for a math exam, we create scratch paper together and learn to organize our listening notes. I give them each a standard piece of copy paper and ask them to fold it two times down and two times across. This creates a paper with sixteen boxes on it. We number every box, and then they listen carefully as I read the quiz questions. They have to write down the important information and work out the problems. The first few times I did this, I guided them through what was important to write down and how to create the problems. Now, it's just a part of our review routine.
3. Spiral Reviews
Even though state testing is about six weeks away, I begin planning some review time into my day. I love using Mountain Math/Language as part of my review. I have the old bulletin board kits up, but their review materials are now available as small center boards, workbooks, and even digitally, as interactive whiteboard lessons. A review has about 40 cards in every problem, so if you use it once a week, it will last 40 weeks. Some teachers use this program all year, but I prefer to use it after I have taught all the concepts and for review purposes during the second semester.
4. Books That Talk About Testing
The week before the state test, I read a great book, Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler, which follows the students in Miss Malarkey's class as they get ready for THE TEST. It's a fun look at test preparation from the kids' point of view. We talk about the similarities between what we are doing and what the kids in the book are going through. We also talk about the idea of just doing your best: I explain that the test is not going to effect their report cards, but is going to reflect upon the teachers and the school. The other books pictured above are also about testing. There is a book coming out in July 2011 called The Big Test by Julie Danneberg that I am looking forward to adding to my collection. Julie Danneberg wrote First Day Jitters (a must for every teacher!), Last Day Blues, and First Grade Letters.
5. Test-Taking Tools, Rulers, and Number Lines
Practice with the tools that you will be allowed to use during the test and practice doing without tools that you may have had all year. During the test, we are required to cover all of our bulletin boards, number lines, alphabet strips, and anything else that could help a child during the test. When I was a new teacher, I had name tags that had a number line, an alphabet, and a hundreds chart on it. The kids loved them, but when the test came and they weren't able to use them, they were very frustrated. Now, I have my kids learn to draw a number line on their scratch paper; when we have reviews, they automatically generate a number line next to their name. When the test comes, they already know what to do. I have also taught them to use the ruler they get with the test as a number line.
During our measurement unit, the kids have a lot pf practice with rulers, but all rulers are not created equal. As part of our test prep, we look at the starting points, where the zero is (if it has a zero), and where to begin measuring with it. During our spiral review, we use a ruler that is very similar to the one they will get for testing.
During the Test
The morning of the test, make sure you have at least two sharpened number two pencils and an eraser for each child, a sign outside your door that says "Shhh. We are testing!" and a test for each child. Ask if you can look at the Directions for Administration for the section that you are doing that day.
Before you hand out the test, have your children take a few deep breaths. Emphasize that you want them to try their best. Remind them of their choices for when they are done. (In my class it's "Read or rest after a test.") If they break their pencil, they can hold their pencil up silently and you can exchange it for them. If they are done with a section, I ask them to stay in their seats reading or resting with their pencil's point sticking out of their closed booklet. Then I come by and check to see that they answered every question before collecting their test.
Special note: When you are checking a student's booklet, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. If you do, you will notice that some of the answers are wrong and that some of the questions are poorly written and it will cause you stress! :) Trust me on this.
After the Test
After the whole class has completed the test each day, and the tests have been collected and delivered to the office, give the kids some downtime. Play a game, go out to P.E., or do an art project or something else fun. They deserve it. It's tough for young kids to maintain that kind of focus for an extended period of time!
I hope that you found some good tips for preparing your class for state testing. What other tips do you have to share?
Leave a comment on this blog post and win some cool prizes for your classroom! I am giving away a 2GB flash drive, a package of five brand new books from Scholastic for your classroom library, 36 sharpened number two pencils, and a test prep book for 2nd grade. Limit one comment per person. Comments must be submitted by Monday, March 14, 2011.