From the Desk of Hope…
Anxious. Frustrated. Unmotivated. Worried.
These are all adjectives that describe the behaviors I see in some lessons centered around test preparation.
Teachers feel tremendous pressure to prepare students for high stakes tests. In response they spend considerable time (sometimes months) before the test on test-like items and teaching test-taking strategies.
At the same time, students feel tremendous pressure to perform on high stakes assessments. Many of them report frustration and resentment at the slow pace of learning and repetitive nature of test preparation.
Some school systems are averaging high stakes tests score to end of year grades.
My anxiety begins to elevate when I think, talk and write about this topic…. for many reasons. One reason includes my personal experience with my son. Over the years I have seen him prepare for “The Test” by doing mounds of “testlets”. I am scared to even think about the amount of instructional time he had taken away from him in order to get ready for “The Test”.
Sadly, I believe he thinks that school, in some ways, is about taking a test rather than a place where he goes to learn and think, ask questions, form new ideas, create and collaborate with his peers.
Testing and Accountability are not going away and in my opinion, it shouldn’t. I do however think that there are better ways to prepare students for high stakes tests.
Let’s consider this scenario.
Two individuals need to lose fifty pounds. At the end of six months, they both lost fifty pounds – hurray!
Wait a minute. Let’s not celebrate too quickly.
One person lost fifty pounds by making life style changes with food and exercise while the other one lost fifty pounds by throwing up her dinner every night.
I feel sure you see my point. Both of these individuals scored excellent on “The Test” but one of them accomplished the goal in a much more healthy way.
How can we help teachers turn test prep into learning?
The good news here is there are “healthy” ways to help students prepare and succeed on high stakes assessments.
Consider the following principles that have proven to positively influence reading achievement as well as promote life long love of reading.
The Reading Principle: It only make sense that the more you practice doing something you better you get at it. Any athlete knows that you get better at your sport by practicing. The same idea applies to reading. If we want students to get better at reading, they need time to read a variety of authentic texts they can read and want to read.
The Response Principle: Our students need time to respond to text through writing, talking and drawing/creating. When students talk about what they read, they learn from each other. They process texts together and build on each others ideas (synthesis). Writing helps students dig deeper into their thinking process. And don’t forget about artistic expression that represents comprehension!
The Explicit Teaching Principle: Explicit instruction in how to comprehend text is important. Teachers should make their thinking visible by modeling how to use a strategy and then give students time to practice. Many educators, including myself, are such efficient readers and writers that our processes have become hidden in our heads. We have to dig into our brains and show our learners how we process as we read. (Harvey 08)
Fear. Many educators are working out of fear of “The Test”. The result is too much test prep work taking up valuable instructional time.
Trust. My hope is that teachers will start putting into place these three principles of reading with rigor and high quality and trust the research that correlates the three principles with reading achievement.
Hope. My hope for students is while high stakes assessments are not going away, teachers will ensure plenty of time for them to read, write, think and communicate so they will be ready for the real world.
“Why not just have kids go, choose a book, read it, talk to someone about it and then get another book?”~Harvey Daniels