Friday, March 14, 2008

Preparing Students for Standardized Test Taking

Two simple words, standardized test, bring chills to the spines of educators, parents, and students. But those two words also bring some level of accountability for which I am grateful. If you’re looking for a rant about standardized testing you won't find it here, but you also won't find whole hearted acceptance.

You see, this week, I've been administering the Reading and Mathematics FCAT, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, as a fourth grade test proctor. I've seen students sit through test after test--Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. They will get a well deserved weekend break before getting back to it on Monday. And, if they are unfortunate enough to be a fifth grader, they will also be tested on Tuesday in Science. All in all, one solid week of testing, hour after hour. I have to wonder if the state could collect the same information, just as reliable and valid, in a much shorter time frame or form. After all, it's Friday evening, and as I was dragging out of school today thoroughly exhausted, you could have heard me utter, “TGIF.” If I’m feeling this way, how are the students feeling this evening?

However exhausted they should be, I will tell you, they certainly do impress me. They seem focused, confident, and patient. They have stamina to stay the course far longer than I think I would. I know the reason they are so prepared is by the careful design of each of their teachers. Each teacher, from Kindergarten on, has prepared them for this high stakes assessment day, for this content, problem solving, and testing taking.

At The Creek, we use many tools to prepare them, but by far, in my opinion, the two most essential tools, are common grade level reading and math assessments, and embedded test taking strategies. Even our youngest learners encounter common cold reading comprehension assessments given across the grade level. Teachers look for patterns, analyze question stems, and discuss results and instruction. Each grade level labors over aligning their standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment to prepare students. Moreover, teachers begin teaching test taking strategies as early as 1st grade, because they know that students need to be taught to take a test. In fact, being a test taker is critically important when grade promotion and graduation depend on it. And, when, it takes a high SAT score to get admitted to a four year university, you need to be sure students are equipped. In addition, these students will likely take a test to enter their profession whether it is as an educator, engineer, doctor, or attorney, to name just a few. Passing tests are a part of present day life, whether we like it or not. So, our teachers must learn to teach not only the content, critical thinking, problem solving, skills, strategies, creativity, but also to teach test taking strategies.

Preparing students for success by practicing test taking relaxes children, eliminates test anxiety, and ultimately gives you a clear picture of the child's actual content knowledge. After all, isn't that truly what everyone wants to know?

1 comment:

Melanie Holtsman said...

I wonder if there is a way to only give the NRT if needed. I think doing two testing series during the same period is just over the top. I feel as you do, if this is way I feel, how must the kids feel.... Seems like cruel and unusual punishment - and the results affect so much..