As we return to our classrooms from a wonderful holiday break to embark upon the spring semester, thoughts of testing loom. The first half of the year is over, and very soon, our hard work will be measured through a single spring assessment.
Since we LOVE sports (ok, so mainly Susan does, ha!), we thought about the parallels between preparing for spring testing and competitive sports. We believe that preparing for spring testing is akin to preparing for the big game, requiring lots of practice and conditioning. With several months to go, there is ample time to recruit your students to take part in your very own “spring training program.”
1. Focus on the fundamentals - End of year assessments are intended to measure how well students know and understand learning standards. The best path to victory is teaching all grade level standards throughout the year in ways that engage and inspire learning.
2. Practice how you play - Coaches require players to practice like they play the game. When students are provided opportunities to practice as they will be tested, their chances of success are drastically improved.
Practice suggestions include:
3. Conditioning - Every athlete knows that conditioning is critical to playing the game. While athletic conditioning involves hours of weightlifting, running, bear crawls, and calisthenics, resulting in increased endurance and stamina. Test conditioning involves building academic stamina.
Students must build the endurance and stamina needed to focus and concentrate for 60-90 minutes at a time. If they are not expected to perform tasks at this level of rigor and duration on a regular basis,
they will not be conditioned to persevere and perform well on the test.
4. Know the plays - For any successful team sport, the players must know the plays. Similarly, with end of year tests, students must know how to answer all of the different types of questions on the test. Depending on grade level, this may involve multiple select questions, constructed-response questions, and questions requiring written explanations of work.
To perform well, students must know and understand exactly what the question is asking and how to provide a proficient response. Prior to testing, students need practice with all question types in order to strategize and “attack” each type of question.
For example, different types of writing prompts require different types of planning, organizing, and writing. Teach your students how to break apart question stems.
5. Watch film - College and pro-level coaches frequently require their players to watch video plays of their opponents for upcoming games. They know what to expect and then know how to best prepare the players.
Possible suggestions include:
A key to this activity is that students must know the criteria for success--so find the rubric that your testmakers have published.
6. Coaching the team - Coaches work closely with players to execute the task perfectly. If the play is not completed with the precision needed for success, it is repeated.
Teachers are coaches too! As a coach, when student work is not where it needs to be, multiple opportunities for revision are a must!
Students learn very quickly that high expectations are the norm and the assignment is not complete until it meets the standards of proficiency.
For tips on how to conduct these mini-conferences in a class of 30, we will have a future post on writing workshops.
7. Stats - Good coaches know each individual player’s statistics. This allows the coach to make decisions based on the strengths and weaknesses of each player on them team.
In similar fashion, students have their own stats in the form of data profiles from previous years’ state tests, benchmark tests, and other formative and summative assessments.
When preparing for spring testing, this data should be used to determine gaps in learning that may be present among students. Once the gaps are known, targeted interventions allow instruction and practice in areas of weakness.
Even the players should know their own stats! Unfortunately, when we were in the classroom, we gave students their previous year’s standardized test data, and they would be shocked. We used this to determine how close they were to the next level of proficiency. The students individually set their own goals, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses.
Let us know if you want to see exactly how to do this with class of 30 and we can write a separate post on it. Email us!
8. Watch the play clock.
We want to mention that test prep shouldn’t be a separate event in your classroom a month before the test. Preparing your kids for the big test should be done covertly, embedded into your instruction all throughout the year. Unfortunately, timed tests are going to plague our students’ lives throughout high school and college. So, if your students do not receive the accommodation for extended time, you need to time your students every now and then--especially on writing assignments.
This does not mean that you have to take the grade exactly as is when the bell rings. You can still give multiple opportunities for corrections, etc. But, timing your students will help them get used to the pressure of the clock, and it will help them learn how to manage their time.
9. Pre-game Huddle - You’ve probably seen a pre-game huddle. All the players gather in close together. The team leader may start a chant, followed by the team answering with a chant. Some teams’ huddles look and sound like they are headed into battle, swaying back and forth. No one looks worried or stressed; instead, they seem fearless, determined, focused. The team has prepared for the game and it is now time to play the game...and win.
As test day approaches, the teacher should not overemphasize one “game,” or test. When the focus is squarely on the test, students can experience undue stress and anxiety, resulting in adverse effects on their performance.
When Erin was in the classroom, she would list the skills that would be tested for her subject a couple of days before the big test. She would call out a skill such as finding the main idea in text. Her students would say, “Check!” The students felt better knowing that they had discussed every skill needed for the test. At the end, she had them literally take a deep breath and exhale--this represented a great sigh of relief!
Take time to huddle up and assure them that they are prepared to take the test. It is simply an opportunity to show what they know.
What have you done in your classroom to help your students successfully prepare for spring testing? We would love to hear from you!
Susan Dewees, Ed.D. is an administrator at a large middle school. She also served as a Turnaround Team Coordinator for a public school district in Louisiana. She has 20 years of experience in public school education, and special education is one of her specialties.
Erin Stokes, Ed.D. is a Title I Instructional Coordinator for a public school district in Louisiana. She has over 10 years of experience as a teacher and instructional coach. She is also an adjuct professor at Louisiana College. She loves students, teachers, and most of all--learning.
Becky Pippen, Ed.D. is currently serving as principal of a large middle school in Louisiana. She has over 20 years experience in educational leadership. She is passionate about improving the teacher workforce so that all students have the quality of instruction they deserve.