This month is testing season in California. Unless our Govenator “wins a battle his aides say he plans to fight in the Legislature,” this year’s second graders will be the last to sit through standardized testing. I’m quoting from the front-page article in today’s Sacramento Bee. I’m not sure how many other states are including 2nd graders in their mandated testing, but I share 2nd grade teacher Jinder Chahal’s observation that “You’re testing their ability to sit there and focus.” Fifty-minute stretches are a long time for 7 years olds to hang on to their #2 pencils!
I’ve been thinking about common-sense approaches to testing and test prep ever since reading Doug Noon’s March 30 Borderland post. Doug refers to Lucy Calkins’ A Teacher’s Guide to Standardized Reading Tests and includes a summary to test taking strategies:
- Use the text, not your life, to pick your answer: Avoid relying on your opinions, memories, or personal experience;
- Sometimes it’s important to refer to your life: When context is thin, as in a vocabulary exercise, sometimes we need to inventory our prior knowledge;
- Choose to answer the question: Learn to paraphrase the question, and consider all of the answer choices;
- Risk an unfamiliar choice: Use the process of elimination when all of the known choices seem wrong;
- Check your answers: Be selective when reviewing your answers, and develop a system for keeping track of the difficult questions. You don’t have to retake the whole test.
Doug points out that “Test item writers are devious.” I agree. It’s sort of like a game. It’s us against them. And to beat them, we need to provide students with effective reading strategies. I really like Linda Hoyt’s Spotlight on Comprehension. In her chapter on Comprehending Standardized Tests, she stresses the huge difference between test practice and test preparation and the need to treat testing as a genre. Hoyt cites the above Calkins’ research throughout. She starts with “consider stamina for testing.” This is a no-brainer, but it’s the first time I’ve really thought about it. If we seriously expect 3rd graders to sit for up to 70-minutes stretches, we need to expand beyond their usual 15-minute sustained silent reading time. She recommends 30 minutes per day of SSR, with a 60-minute session one day a week.
The other strategies listed are:
I rejoice with teachers and students across the nation who have finished or will soon be finished with this year’s round of testing and hope that, in addition to better test scores, we have also fostered better readers.
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