I know very few people who are fans of large scale, standardized assessments for 8 year olds. Honestly, for my mental health, I am not going to discus my opinions. But, these tests are a fact in our teaching world and so as an educator, I have to work within the system.
I do need to preface this post with some praise for our school’s administration. I have never felt judged by my scores and I haven’t been pressured to teach in an unauthentic way because they want kids to pass a test. I am proud to say I don’t teach to the test but I don’t know the pressures others feel. I am lucky and grateful.
To balance this out, I still do some degree of test preparation. When you have those kiddos that we call “Bubble Kids” that are so close to passing but need a little push, sometimes teaching them testing strategies is the best thing we can do for them. One major reason is that you have to take tests your whole life. Another reason, and perhaps the reason for my strong feeling about our state’s STAAR test, is the memory of telling students who you know have shown amazing growth, that they didn’t pass. It is devastating, even when you put very little emphasis on the test in your classroom. If a few hours of test strategy practice can avoid this, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.
My time frame for test prep is pretty loose. I like to do a whole class lesson before the middle of year bench marking. I look at their tests and see if they are using strategies. This gives me a group of students who might need help knowing how to prove answers. I really don’t touch test prep again until after Spring Break. We do a benchmark in February so I have a good idea of who needs strategy help, who needs content reteach, and then you have that group that needs both. Now that we are a few weeks out from the test, we are doing daily strategy practice with our students who didn’t meet last year’s pass rate. Currently we are finishing up our four day a week, 30 minute intervention in reading. We are taking a week off and then will go into a 2 week, before the test RTI/enrichment cycle.
We have an amazing group of interventionists at our school. Rose Tran works with our 4th/5th grade students and she is fantastic. She really helped me plan out our RTI work. I am linking her blog and her TPT store so you can see for yourself! Our weekly thirty minute RTI for reading test strategies looks like this:
We tell our students we are reading the first time for fun. Enjoy the passage as much as you can. The second read through is for comprehension. They are stopping at each paragraph and writing a hashtag. This is a fun way to have kids stop, think about what they read, and write the main idea. We practice hash-tagging with pictures first then move on to paragraphs. If the text is dialogue heavy I tell them to do 4 or so hashtags per page. My students actually enjoy hash-tagging and I would highly recommend teaching this strategy.
Tuesday: cut out test questions and sort them on the question type
I cut out each question from a photocopy. First we split questions up by explicit and inference. I want them to recognize if they can just go find they answer in the text! Then we split them up again. The question we most often see are main idea, vocabulary, sequence, summary, authors purpose, and cause and effect.
Wednesday: answer the first half of questions together
I like to let them try to answer each one on their own. I also help them see what the key words in the questions are. I see this as the most important step. They need to know what each question is asking if they are going to be able to answer it. I look for question type words (caused, before, summary, author, mainly about) and words that tell them where to look in the text.
Thursday: students answer the second half of the questions on their own so we have data
I always give them a pep talk before they start. We talk about our goals, how to take breaks if we start to lose focus, and I remind them to highlight in the questions.
Our school has some copies of Motivation Reading. They closely align to Texas’ STAAR test. I like to think about them as oatmeal. By themselves, no thanks, I’ll pass on the gruel. With some strategies, enthusiasm, and a love for highlighters… I mean it still isn’t great but it’ll do. They are passages and multiple choice questions. When used by themselves I see very little value, but for guided practice, they can be a useful resource.
To get the PDF of these documents, please visit my TPT store.