My first few years of teaching, I did not fully realize how much was riding on state mandated testing. I did not understand the game of high stakes testing. I thought they were overvalued, which I still believe to an extent, but I came to realize that test scores, like it or not, reflect how I am perceived to be as a teacher. Although my percentage of students who performed satisfactorily on these tests were within my district’s expectations, I decided to step it up a notch and go beyond that. I decided to go against something I said I would never do, but the results have been well worth. I began to teach towards the test. I still made learning fun, but I developed a plan which I thought would get a much larger percentage of students above the satisfactory mark. The plan that I used is outlined below. With more and more states passing laws moving towards performance based pay, I believe getting your students to perform at the highest level is even more important than ever.
Teach your students to value the test.
This has become the foundation for my student’s testing success. The first thing I always tell my students is that my job is to prepare them for the state mandated test. I begin on day one preaching the importance of these tests. I explain why they are important to themselves, their teachers, their parents, and the school system. I tell them when the test dates are and remind them on a daily basis of these things. By talking about it every day, I believe my students take ownership in the tests and want to succeed. I also let my students know that if they fail the test, it will not be my fault, because I will give them every tool they need to be successful.
Teach to your state standards.
This was one of the easiest things to do, but it is also one of the most over-looked. Although textbook vendors have become better at writing text books for individual state standards they often put many things in their books that your students simply aren’t tested on. If chapter 2 of a specific book doesn’t cover one of my state standards, then I skip that chapter. I only want to spend time on what my students are going to be tested on. If I have time later in the year, I may go back and cover that material, but I want to make sure I can get everything covered that they are going to be tested on first.
Use the resources your state department gives you.
Check your state department website for lots of testing information. Most state departments give you great resources such as testing blue prints, released test items, and even test specs that break down your state standards as their related to testing. Blue prints especially are useful to me. Testing blue prints tell you what percentage of questions is going to be asked over a particular topic. If students are struggling with a particular concept, this blue print becomes very important. If that concept only represents one question on the test, then is it worth the four days of class it is going to take to get all of your students to be able to answer it? I would rather spend one extra day on the concept and move on to other concepts which have more testing value to them.
Use supplemental resources geared towards state standards.
Most districts invest money to help students pass state test because of how much is riding on them. Resources such as Study Island, A+ Learning Systems, & Buckle Down all are geared towards better preparing your students for the test. I view them as reinforcement for the concepts I have already taught my students. In addition, these resources offer a quick review of concepts you taught earlier in the year.
Show your students examples of test questions.
In the month leading up to the tests, we answer hundreds of questions just like they see on the actual test. I want my students to be comfortable answering the questions and I want them to see examples of every possible question they might see. My students do get sick of answering questions, but they also realize why we are doing it. After testing is over, my students often tell me that my test was the easiest they took because they had already seen several questions very similar to what was on their actual test. To mix it up, I make sure that we answer some whole group and others individually, but I always go back question by question to break down how we arrive at a particular answer.
Teach your students test taking strategies.
This is another tool that has been a key ingredient in my students’ success on the state test. I believe that you can increase any student’s scores just by teaching them test taking strategies. We value strategies such as eliminating choices we know for sure are incorrect, reading the stem at least two times, & covering up the possible answers and taking a guess first. When we review questions as a group, I break down every question using the strategies I have taught them. By the time they take the actual test, these are second nature to them.