The 11th Hour

New York State opens the testing window the ELA grades 3-8 on Monday. My hunch is that most schools are starting on Tuesday and spending Monday doing a wide variety of "test prep" activities, both helpful and detrimental to students and teachers. I imagine there's going to be a run on Tums on Sunday night and some child will have a hard time falling asleep, convinced that if they fail the test their life, as they know it, is over. In time, I think the pendulum will swing toward the middle. In the meantime, my two cents on how to spend Monday.

Odds are good that by this point, the students are familiar with the format of the test and would not benefit from taking any additional practice tests. This is especially true for 8th graders who could probably write the test by now. An approach that may be more beneficial is to spend some time reminding the students of the purpose of the tests and the intended audience. It is not to find out if Jane or Jose is smart or is a good student or to determine their self-worth or to find out if their teacher is good. The audience is every student, Grades 3 through 8, in the state of New York. In other words, a student's self-check for a correct response might be: is this the best answer or is it best for me?

Monday may best served by reminded them how to translate all of that learning to one particular format. A useful strategy may be to provide the students with a Venn Diagram on the board or chart paper and have a discussion about the difference between Real World behaviors – all of those great things we do when we interact with texts in our “real lives” versus what we do on the day of the test that we do at no other time. To anchor yourself in this mental model, consider how you drove the day of your driver's test. How did you behave when driving while running errands or driving to work (assuming there weren't three inches of ice on the roads - yeah Buffalo!)? There are some things in common (text tagging, using the text to find an answer) but there are lots of differences that are worth highlighting:

The analogy may not work for all students - if that's case - and seriously (even in the most "test netural" schools Monday is a high stress day) what else are you going to be teaching/talking about? - spend some time Venn-ing out behaviors playing basketball versus football, watching TV versus watching movies or eating dinner at home versus eating dinner at a friend's house, then shift to testing and real world behaviors.

In any event, regardless of how the is spent, it's helpful to keep in mind the sage advice of Dr. Seuss in Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

Miss Bonkers rose. “Don’t fret!” she said.
“You’ve learned the things you need
To pass the test and many more –
I’m certain you’ll succeed.
We’ve taught you that the earth is round,
That red and white make pink,
And something else that matters more –
We’ve taught you how to think.”


Theresa G said...

With the exception of your use of Venn diagrams (which I detest for ELA activities) - what a great post!! :-)

My eldest niece takes her first NYS assessment in ELA next week after two years of benchmark assessments. I have saved the letter they sent home to use in future trainings. She is nervous but mostly because she wants to do really well. I have assured her that it doesn't matter to her what the score is (particularly knowing that it is very difficult to acheive a score of "4" on the grade 3 ELA) as long as she can come home and say she did her best.
Monday - the day before her test - is my birthday so on that day we are going to destress by playing Guitar Hero and using the new guitar and microphone I hope to be gifted with. Think that will help?

Linda704 said...

Michigan has a "black-out window" for test prep beginning ten school days before the first day of testing through the last day of the assessment window. No prototypes, no released items, no test-prep books, etc. This also means anything in classrooms related to the benchmarks must be covered. The stress level is crazy. I think Theresa G has the right idea. Have fun destressing.