Testing has very much become a part of school culture. Some assessments are teacher-initiated and quite meaningful for planning purposeful, data-driven instruction and assess exactly what you have been teaching in class. Other tests are standardized, mandated, developmentally inappopriate and you must give them to your students even though you really don’t want to. This blog post will provide assessment strategies and testing tips and ideas to help you in both of those scenerios.
As a kid I remember tests were a big deal in school. Sure we had the weekly spelling tests which were not worth breaking a sweat over and tests were otherwise few and far between.
Today our little friends are tested all. the. time.
There is the test. There is the practice test. There is the test to practice for the practice test. You get the idea
But, while testing and test prep can be taken to the extreme, there is also a positive side to assessing what kids know which is true data-driven instruction.
When we use the information gathered through both formal and informal assessments to form small groups for focus lessons and differentiate our instruction to address specific student need the testing becomes purposeful and worth the time investment.
Here are a few tips to make that happen as well as some ways to ease the pain of those annual tests you may feel are developmentally inappropriate, unfair, a waste of time, etc but are required by the state and therefore you have to give them anyway.
When giving any kind of assessment I always preface it by saying, “This is a chance to show what you know.” I explain that they need to show me exactly what they understand and can do so that I can evaluate how well I have taught them and determine what to teach them next. I say in all honesty that I need to make sure they fully understand concepts and the activity will let me see if I need to teach the information in a new way. I also point out that I never want to waste their time in class doing things they already know how to do and this will help me see that they are proficient and ready to move on to the next thing.
I try to make those bigger (state/district mandated) assessments seem more like a celebration than a chore. I explain that we have been working very hard to learn new skills and it is finally our chance to “Show What We Know!“ This helps them to view it as an opportunity vs a stressful chore.
Assign “quiet working stations” and use them for assessments. I have tables in my classroom to promote cooperative learning, but there are times when the students need to work on quiet, independent tasks. Each student has a “quiet work spot” that they go to for these tasks. This involves them being spread out around the room a bit. Some sit at tables normally reserved for small group lessons. I also have folders that we use to create a “mini-office” when they are working in these spots. This set up is ideal for testing, but because we also use it for other activities during a typical week, it provides a feeling of normalcy during a test which leads to a relaxed atmosphere.
Whenever possible, give the assessments in small groups. I use my Grade Level Math Assessments as an activity at the teacher station during the Math Workshop Rotations because I find it helpful to watch them working. I can ask questions and make observations to better understand their thinking. I typically take notes or even engage in conversation at appropriate times to identify misconceptions. This is so helpful in planning future instruction.
Standardized tests come with very strict rules about assisting kids in any way. This poses a challenge because we spend all year guiding our students and helping them work through activities.
If a stressed child tries to get your help on a problem on test day, and you have to tell them you can’t help for the first time, it is going to increase their stress level which can then negatively impact their test results.
I recommend you establish norms for testing situations in advance. Implement them early in the year any time a quiz or test is taking place and be consistent in how you respond to requests for help.
Present it in a relaxed manner by explaining that the reason they are doing the activity is to show you what you need to teach them. Explain that if they do not know how to do something they should try to use strategies to find the answer, but if it ends up being wrong it simply means you will need to teach them some more about the concept.
Praise children who demonstrate grit and perseverance in trying to solve difficult problems regularly.
Get in the habit of coaching students to help themselves when they ask for help instead of directing them.
The first few years I taught third grade I felt the need to set aside several weeks each spring for “test prep.” Basically this meant that we stopped our normal pacing, lessons, and learning and spent WAY TOO MUCH valuable time working through released tests from previous years from the state and test prep booklets purchased by the school. Good times.
It was sad and mind-numbing and totally worthless.
We also found ourselves cramming in a highlight reel of all the skills that were scheduled to be taught after the test…because even though 3rd grade didn’t end until three months after the state test, the state felt the need to test them on the entire year’s worth of standards. Seriously?!? I digress.
I knew it needed to stop. I knew there had to be a better way. When I couldn’t find a solution, I came up with my own.
Following the district-issued curriculum typically meant skills were introduced, taught, tested…and forgotten. Every March I found myself frustrated because my bright, intelligent students did not remember how to round numbers or write numbers in expanded form or any of those other skills they appeared to be proficient in back in the first months of school when it was taught…and tested…and forgotten. It wasn’t their fault. They simply had not been given a reason to remember it or opportunities to practice the concepts again.
I created the daily spiral review pages to
- eliminate test prep
- make homework meaningful
- provide students who had not demonstrated proficiency when a skill was taught the opportunity to work towards mastery throughout the year (spoiler alert: they always did)
✓ 25 pages per month = lots of choices for teachers
✓ saves educators lots of time
✓ versatile: teachers use them for homework, morning work, and more
✓ consistent format makes for stress-free homework and classwork
✓ 10 Questions Makes it Quick and Easy to Grade
✓ It encourages a growth mindset philosophy.
✓ parents love the predictable homework
✓ ensures students work toward mastery of skills by not just “moving on”
By using these each week I managed to completely eliminate the need for any formal test prep review in the spring and my students scored better than ever before each year after implementing them.
Place a sign on your door to let parents and staff know there is an assessment taking place. Ask the school secretary not to put calls through or use the intercom at the time of testing. Tell your neighboring classrooms when testing will occur. Unnecessary disruptions can wreak havoc on performance.
Test taking has become a skill all its own. Often a child who is proficient in the skill being assessed scores below ability because of not understanding the question, not fully reading the directions or getting confused by certain words. Responding to an open response prompt and citing evidence from the text needs to be constructed a certain way. Math problems are often multi-step. Instead of giving children the time they need to do their best the testing manual regulates a very specific start and end time. Bubbling in the answer sheet the wrong way could give a false sense of failure.
While I do not advocate for taking too much valuable class time away to practice for taking tests, it will help alleviate anxieties and enable your students to perform better if they are given the tools to succeed.
- Make practicing a growth mindset a regular expectation in your classroom.
- Teach children how to identify exactly what a prompt is asking them to do.
- Encourage students to ALWAYS check their work before turning in it. This includes resolving math equations, making sure no questions were skipped, and if necessary verifying that the answer sheet/bubbles align with the test.
- Practice mindfulness, breathing, and other stress-reducing techniques.
- Make a goal of improving pacing and time management for tasks.
- Reflect on assessments when they are complete. Discuss what they found to be confusing or challenging. Share tips for overcoming those obstacles next time.
Always explain the purpose for the assessment. Are you giving them an assessment so that you can plan small group instruction? Are they bubbling in circles because the state mandates they do? No matter the reason for the test, be sure to share the purpose for their work with them.
Strive to find ways to enrich your students so that assessments are an incentive to prove they are proficient so they can move on to something new. I find this easiest to accomplish through Guided Math and Reader Workshop.
When designing your own assessments make them:
- easy to correct
- simple for the parents to understand
- as short as possible
- focused on the skill (if it is a math test, reading shouldn’t be a barrier)
- designed for “apple to apple” comparisons to show growth (pre, mid, post)
Click to Access and Download…
I designed an assessment packet to use with my 3rd graders. It includes three different assessments for each of the math concepts covered in third grade. This allowed me to use one to identify their current understanding after introducing and practicing a new concept and another to use as an assessment after formal instruction. I reserved the third one as a review to ensure they retained the skill down the road.
The packet also includes a data notebook for the students to track their progress which has been great for communicating progress during Parent/Teacher Conferences. The other two components are a grade book that I keep specifically for the grade level math standards along with lesson planning sheets I use for designing differentiated lessons for guided math instruction.
These have been absolutely amazing.
- Each has only ten questions so they are quick and easy to correct.
- They allow me to analyze which students need to work on a specific skill further.
- Drive my instruction.
- Compare and document student progress because of the three-test format.
- Make it easy for parents to see how well a child understands the skill.
I had received requests from teachers to create identical packets for other grade levels. I’m happy to share thatthe Second Grade Assessment Packetas well as theFourth Grade Assessment Packetare now available and 5th grade is in development.