The online testing window has been open for over a month now so some of our students around the state are done testing while others are in the midst of it. Still others are eager (or perhaps feeling a different adjective) to get started. My tenth and eleventh grade ELA students will test the week of May 16th. Are they ready? I think and hope so. Here is what we have been and will be doing to “prepare.”
Attitude is Major
A year ago this letter made the rounds on Facebook and more recently ones like this have popped up. I always “like” them because these teachers clearly love their students. I also recognize the tests are not perfect and appreciate the concern for students’ welfare. As teachers, though, we should not sabotage ourselves or our system but instead focus on what we can control and that is our attitudes toward the assessments.
Our students, parents, and, in some sense, society at large is looking to us, those on the “inside,” for evidence to inform their opinions. I do not believe the SBAC test is harmful to children, and thus I represent it to parents and students as an opportunity to see how we’re all doing. Would I really rather be doing something else during those four days in May? Sure, but it is not the end of the world that I can’t, and it does not benefit our profession for me to loudly complain about it on social media. The test is a reality of our system at this point in time; if we want to change it, we should work to do so in legal and political arenas.
Practice is Practical
In many ways, we have been practicing for this test all year because I have done my best to embrace the key shifts of the standards. This means my students are regularly practicing with complex texts and their academic vocabulary. They are reading, writing, speaking (and listening) grounded in textual evidence. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction has also been part of our efforts. Is every unit or lesson perfect and as aligned to the standards as possible? Not yet, but I strive to keep learning and improving so that my students get the best I can give. Overall, I believe in these shifts and feel the corresponding standards lead our students in a direction that will enable them to be successful in any path of their choosing beyond high school.
The Interim Assessment Blocks have been an invaluable tool for me this year. To gain familiarity with the test structure, we practiced taking a couple blocks in the fall, and we have looked at the rest every couple weeks throughout the spring. I purposely structured our practice this way so that we took advantage of all aspects of this valuable tool without getting too burnt out on it. After each block, I shared big picture results with the class as a whole, and I will briefly conference with each student this week about their individual results. The purpose of this conversation will be to encourage and remind them of what I know they already know, not to reteach them everything they didn’t get when they practiced. I am still working to format some of my formative and unit assessments to mimic the structures of the SBAC so this practice has really helped them gain familiarity with it.
We additionally have recently been working on a unit that will require students to write a synthesis essay (not unlike the Performance Task). After brainstorming a few options, students voted to look at the juvenile justice system. They have read four articles, examined recent and trend statistics, and will listen to a guest speaker next week before they write to an argumentative prompt. We will review all aspects of an effective essay and use the SBAC performance task rubric to self and peer evaluate. Is this test prep? In a sense, but students have also been meaningfully engaged in learning more about a topic of their interest, one that somewhat relates to what we will read next–Lord of the Flies.
Encouragement Seals the Deal
I think it is also worth mentioning that we are asking students to do something fairly challenging and also not very fun for many. While this is often a reality of “the real world,” offering kudos and encouragement to our students is worth the effort and expense on our part. In the coming weeks I will:
- Practice patience and kindness at all times–it’s May and doing so is a challenge at times (how many times have I answered that irrelevant question?) but I can do it
- Compliment students’ effort and hard work–I’m shooting for a 10 to 1 positivity ratio
- Provide a small selection of yummy breakfast items before the test and snacks during break
- Show motivational videos clips as entry or exit tasks–maybe some like these or even these
- Play music and have a little fun after each day’s testing session–for a moment or so at least…
What am I missing? I can’t wait to hear what you are doing to “prepare.”