Similar to the weeks prior to the ELA assessment, many schools across the state are giving their students old copies of the state assessments to prepare their students for the big day. Based on conversations with schools and fellow professional developers, these practice tests serve several different purposes. Regardless of the reason for giving the assessment, there are several strategic moves that can be made to get the best return on your time investment and hopefully, minimize the impact on instructional time and students' sense of what school is all about.
First things first. Be honest about the reason you're asking students to take the old assessment. "To prepare them for the test" is a big broad topic. A common problem in test prep is trying to tackle two problems in one fell swoop. It's a given a that when you're teaching students a new strategy, you introduce it with familiar content or low level text. You wouldn't ask a middle school student to text-tag for the first time with a college level text. The same holds true for practice tests. It's not fair to ask students to "do their best" on the math content and expect them to notice the format and structure at the same time. Their brain is going to be busy with the math. I'm going to tackle a couple of common reasons for giving practice tests over the next couple of days and highlight the benefits of approaching different purposes in different ways.
If your goal is to expose students to the test format:
There are few students on the planet as test savvy as 8th grade students. They have been been tested since they were in fourth grade. They know what the test looks like. Some could even write it. If you work with middle level students, your time may be better served by telling them what's different in the grade 8 assessment (no editing, but extended writing). If the concern is that they really don't know the format, than give them time to do that - and only that. What do they notice about about the font? About the spacing and the structure? The set up of the questions? What might trip them up on the actual test? Make sure they know how to use the ruler, the protractor and the rules of getting as many points as possible on Book 2 and Book 3.
If your goal is to familiarize your students with timed testing:
Consider chunking the test. First, give your students the appropriate time to take Book 1 - and tell them the purpose of taking the practice test is to give a sense of how much time they'll have. Next, when they're done, take ten minutes to process what happened. A Behavior over Time graph (below) is a great tool for helping students process their stress level. Did they feel more stressed at the beginning of the test? At the end of the test? Finally, give them the support to develop a plan. If they freak out in the beginning, what can do they do to avoid the freak out? What helps them calm down? You'd be surprised the ideas that students generate during these types of conversations. It's also a nice way to reveal "rumors" that kids have heard.
Coming up tomorrow - how to tackle practice tests if your goal is to identify student weaknesses. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!