Tag Archives: testing

Give Your Students an Edge on Standardized Tests

by Tom Klonoski

illustration of pencil filling in bubble-style test answer sheet

Image courtesy of Becris at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Like it or not, standardized test scores are the primary way of measuring U.S. school performance. With much at stake for both teachers and students, teachers should try to give the kids in their classrooms every possible advantage to help them succeed on the tests.

Most districts gear their curricula toward skills related to the content of tests. In addition to covering content, teachers can give students an edge by including a unit on test-taking strategies, preferably close to the month of the test. Here are some key strategies to give your students a boost.

Before the Test

Get familiar with the test form and question types.

Try to find a practice test on the website of the test publisher. Administer it to your class under a time control. This will help students become familiar with both the structure of the test and a timed format. Afterwards, discuss the test, focusing on any directions the students found confusing. If the publisher does not provide a practice test, use a search engine to see if anyone else has created one. The goal is to get students familiar with question types and how to answer them.

Encourage students to arrive at school on testing day feeling rested and energetic

A healthy mind and body is essential for good test performance. Tell students to get plenty of rest the night before a test. Also encourage them to eat a good breakfast. Tell them to make time for breakfast at school if they aren’t able to get a complete one at home.

Get your students in a good frame of mind immediately before the test.

One of the biggest issues on testing day is nervousness that affects performance. In the days before the test, lead your class in breathing exercises focused on relaxation. Long, deep breaths are the key. When students have become comfortable with this routine, they will be able to use it to their advantage just before the test and even during it. On testing day, make sure you allow time for a bathroom break in the half hour before the test. Just before passing out the test, lead the class in unison to say, “We got this,” or any other statement of affirmation that you think appropriate.

During the Test

 Work with your students on these during-test strategies in the weeks leading up to the test.

Read the directions carefully

Following directions is especially important on writing tests. Often a student will begin writing about a prompt and become involved with the flow and organization of the writing. This can result in the writer’s focus wandering away from the topic of the prompt and focusing on the wrong content. Encourage students to create a plan before they start writing. The plan can consist of either a basic outline or graphic organizer. The content of the plan should consist of key points and support. Underlining key words and phrases in the prompt may help them with this task.

Review the answer sheet during and after the test

If the test involves filling in ovals on a test form, students must be careful not to accidentally skip questions and fill in ovals in the wrong rows. Get them in the habit of checking their answer sheet every five questions to make sure they are on the right row. For example, they would check after question 5, after question 10, and so on. They can also check the clock at those times to make sure they are working at an appropriate pace.

Don’t get bogged down on difficult questions

Every test contains items that take longer to complete than other items. Tell students that if they are having trouble with an item, they should just skip it and come back to it at the end of the test. Emphasize that if they do skip an item, they must also skip the corresponding row on their answer sheet. Remind students that even partial answers can receive points on short-response or extended-response items.

One additional advantage of all of these strategies is that mastering them will give students confidence about the test, which can also contribute to an improved performance. Finally, help students to keep a good perspective about the test. They should be satisfied with trying their best; if things don’t turn out well, there will be other opportunities down the road.

What You Need to Know About Common Core Testing

guest post by Trisha Beck DeOre

common core testing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just the mention of the Common Core assessments often fuels anxiety for students, parents, and certainly schools, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know to make sense out of the mayhem and start preparing your students for a successful testing experience.

What’s New About These Tests?

Under Race to the Top, the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to two companies: Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced). Both tests 

  • assess Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math.
  • assess students’ readiness for college and career.
  • provide quick results that ultimately inform remediation and guide subsequent curriculum and professional development.
  • are computer-based and have been designed to assess higher-level thinking skills and proficiencies that previous tests could not. (Only Smarter Balanced features computer adaptive testing [CAT].)

Which Test Are My Students Taking?

States choose which test(s) to administer to their students; see the lists below. Some states have not yet chosen either test, though they may in the future.

PARCC: Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island.

Smarter Balanced: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

When Do My Students Take the Tests?

Many schools around the country took field tests last spring to help prepare for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. Full implementation of the tests begins in spring of 2015, although many states are opting to delay testing at least another year.

PARCC tests students in grades 3–11; Smarter Balanced tests students in grades 3–8 and 11.

How Are the Tests Structured?

PARCC includes two mandatory summative assessments and two optional assessments (diagnostic and mid-year).

  • The mandatory Performance-Based Assessment tests multiple standards and standards that are difficult to measure, such as writing and research (ELA) and real-world application problems (Math).
  • The mandatory End-of-Year Assessment measures reading comprehension (ELA) and conceptual understanding (Math).

Smarter Balanced includes one mandatory summative assessment and optional interim assessments (diagnostic and mid-year).

  • The mandatory assessment tests key skills and conceptual understandings in Math and ELA. It includes a Performance Task that tests multiple standards and standards that are difficult to measure, such as research and complex analysis skills.

How Can I Prepare My Students?

The spring 2014 field tests showed that preparation was key to successful tests—for districts, for schools, and for students. Schools need to ensure that they have enough bandwidth and available devices well in advance of testing. Students need familiarity with computer basics (drag and drop, typing for essay responses) as well as practice with their test’s formats. This familiarity eases anxiety and helps students focus on the content of the test without being confused by the format.

Keep in mind that both PARCC and Smarter Balanced are trying to make the tests as transparent as possible, and both have extensive sample test questions to help students get comfortable with the formats. Take a look at your state’s sample tests (see PARCC or Smarter Balanced), and give students ample practice in a low-pressure environment. And don’t forget: the goal of the tests is to make sure students know and can demonstrate their understanding of the Common Core State Standards. The more teachers and students work with these standards in class, the better they’ll do on the tests.

What additional questions do you have about CCSS testing? Leave a comment or ask us on Twitter.

Trisha Beck DeOre is a senior curriculum developer at Nieman Inc.