Like it or not, the end of the year assessments are quickly approaching. With this looming reality, test prep has been on my mind lately, as I’m sure it has for all my colleagues out there. So, how can we prepare for these assessments without losing our freakin’ minds? Here are some tips for test prep that are helping me navigate this time of year and feel confident sending my students into statewide assessments.
The content and topics tested on state assessments are not a mystery. The questions and way students will be asked to show their understanding, however, is. How many times have you said (or heard a colleague say) my students knew how to solve this problem when we did it in class and on the test I gave them, but this test asked the question differently. This happens all the time. So, really getting students ready for assessments requires more than just reviewing concepts and skills from the year. It also means making sure students can apply those skills with novel problems. Otherwise, one small thing that they’re not used to seeing can throw them for a complete loop.
With that in mind, test prep has to get students thinking deeply about the learning they’ve done this year. Test preparation should not be endless amounts of review problems, or a series of worksheets on all the topics taught over the course of the year. I’ve literally cried as I’ve seen teachers assign 50+ worksheet pages over spring break in anticipation for state testing. Stop the insanity! Isn’t is possible to get kids ready for state testing without driving everyone bonkers?
****Disclaimer: Before I get into ways to make test prep less dreadful, there is one major caveat I must include: I am a firm believer that the best way to know how students will do on the end of the year testing is to look at what they are doing on October 1st, September 23rd, November 15th, December 17th, and January 8th. In other words, if students aren’t doing the work of learning all year long, a little bit of cramming right before the test will never make up for the time lost earlier in the year.****
Give students rich opportunities to discuss together and learn from each other:
Jennifer Findley at Teaching to Inspire uses collaborative posters to have students review Graffiti Style (if you have large white boards for student use, those would be great too!!). Leverage positive social interactions to make the learning stick by having students review in partners and small groups. In talking together, students have to make their thinking more visible by putting their thoughts into words. They also can learn from the way their peers explain things.
Another great approach that takes advantage of students sharing their understanding and ideas is the Collaborative Problem Solving approach with Runde’s Room. This strategy gets students working together to really sharpen their understanding.
Make test prep fun!
Using games gets students more engaged in their practice, leading to more and better practice. Use games like Knockout on the interactive whiteboard, Bingo, or other games that get students energized about their practice. Mrs. E Teaches Math describes the classic classroom review game Trashketball as her favorite way to review with her students. Scavenger hunts, riddles, anything that brings a bit of fun and whimsy and/or allows students to work towards a challenge (earning points, etc.) will liven up the practice session.
Make test preparation an ongoing activity:
Instead of one big push of test prep, have cyclical practice in math centers or daily review as part of mindsets or homework. At One Stop Teacher Shop Kristin shares two ways to make test preparation an ongoing theme. She strategically uses math centers and spiral review in homework to review previously learned skills. This way she keeps prior learning fresh throughout the whole school year.
Another way to help students prepare for the big test is to have intentional practice in error analysis. Standardized tests notoriously have distractor responses that students will often fall for. Ashleigh blogs about how she prepared her students to more critically think about problems and their answer choices through error analysis. It’s a great strategy to help students think critically about their learning by also analyzing common mistakes and misconceptions. Helping them become more aware of the common “tricks” and mistakes will certainly help them when that big test is placed before them.
Good luck to all you amazing educators out there gearing up for testing time. Let’s all take a deep breath, remember how hard our students have worked all year, and give them all our encouragement as they show what they know. What tips work for you? I love collecting new ideas and tips on my Pinterest board, and would love to hear from you!
Join the Maze of the Month Club
Join to get exclusive free math mazes every month!