The topic of how to prepare students for an assessment can often be an area fought with difficult decisions. It is sometimes turned into a topic focused more on the teaching institution than on students and how the results of a standardized state test can affect the revenue for a school system. The true purpose of testing, is to evaluate the current knowledge and progress of a student at specified point in time and determine where they will need additional focus or review later.
Test Preparation for Kids
I use assessments to evaluate my teaching and drive my instruction. I re-teach certain elements based on feedback I receive, and I am able to differentiate my instruction based on the feedback of assessments. This is, of course, what most teachers will focus on for a regular assessment; however, when faced with a state standardized test, it is not uncommon for a teacher to prepare students differently than how they normally would. This could be a reaction to pressures from the school, administration, or simply a personal belief by the teacher that this test holds more value or stake than others.
Having personally worked in both a public and a private school system, I have some experience with both sides of the coin. Public schools are required to score at a certain level in order to maintain funding, while a private institution not receiving state funds can eliminate the state test altogether. Private institutions may, on occasion, still take the test or a similar version, simply to show scores and attract students, but they are not bound by the same requirements as a public school.
In the public arena, we often focus much of our teaching time into reviewing for the upcoming high stakes tests. We often spend a significant amount of time reviewing earlier material than teaching new material. There is constant implied pressure from administrators and others, and teachers know it is very clear that their goal is to improve the test scores from the previous year. This system was created with the best intentions; however, in the long run, it ends up not working well. While on one hand we had spent weeks preparing the students for the test or reviewing previous material, we spent exactly 0 minutes reviewing how well they had done on the test or which items were commonly missed. Meanwhile, the individuality of a student is lost in this mass of statistics, as they are receiving no personal feedback, and comparing this years fourth grade vs last year’s fourth grade glosses over the individual growth/decline of those within the class.
On the flip side, teaching in a private school, we don’t have to teach to the bubble test. There isn’t a standardized state test to get ready for at the beginning of the year. Students come into each grade level, briefly review things to make sure everybody is prepared for the current year, and move on to new material. This allows for a more speedy assimilation to the next grade and easier classroom management. Of course the common core still needs to be taught, so the question then shifts from how will or students do on the test to how well do our students know the core? How do you ensure that those state standards are being met, without the overarching test that affects everything and has thousands of dollars as reward/penalty attached? And how do you prepare students for an everyday assessment?
Personally, I believe the best way to prepare students for a test is to teach the exact same way you would on a normal day. If you have a style that you find effective for everyday teaching, it should inherently be also effective for test preparation as the purpose of everyday teaching is to facilitate learning. Students who have learned well, will score well on tests. Test preparation should not be this huge stressful deal, it should merely be the inclusion of additional material into your regular teaching patterns. A simple study guide, review packet, or preview of the rubric will help a student prepare or refresh for the test. I find it helpful to have my students help create the assessment on occasion. I find this helps them think about the learning objectives and core teaching points. They think of it as an interactive and fun activity as they collaborate within their learning clubs.
I also find it very helpful to keep the common core handy, and refer to it as I create lessons. I find that effective use of the core values within regular lessons will lead to students being better prepared for assessment. Exposure to the core shouldn’t have to wait until an annual test, when it can appear as a regular part of your day. For a quick refresher on the common core, I always look to the apps created by Mastery Connect, which can help keep the core at your fingertips.
Regardless of whether you’re in a private or public school, and regardless of grade level, I find it best to keep it simple when leading up to a test, and stick to what works best for you. Make an effort to keep stressors out of the students way, and most importantly – take an active role in their learning by providing sound feedback and a setting appropriate for learning.
About the Author
Erin Klein is a second grade teacher in Michigan and author of the award winning edu tech blog, Kleinspiration. She is also a certified SMART Board Trainer and SMART Exemplary Educator. Erin serves as the Michigan Reading Association’s co-technology chairperson and is a member of The National Writing Project.