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Practical Advice To Help Students Be Successful With State Testing

State testing in the US happens each May. The pressure is on to ensure students are as prepared as possible. You’re considering doing “test prep” with your students, but what exactly does that mean? You don’t know the topics or what genre students will need to write. So where do you start?

Trust that workshop, when you do it consistently, prepares students for standardized tests. Standardized tests often demand students to read several passages, answer questions, and write an entire essay. Workshop allows students to build their stamina in reading and writing and helps strengthen their comprehension and analytical skills. For the test’s essay portion, students will plan, draft, revise, and edit their writing. If you’ve been teaching writing workshop, you know this as the stages of the writing process.

When thinking about test prep, we must keep in mind that the goal isn’t to teach to the test but instead to give students the opportunity to practice their writing in authentic ways. We want students to confidently approach state testing in their writing skills and strategies.

Embracing Authentic Test Prep in the Classroom

First, we must begin unpacking the test with our students by ensuring they understand how to take a standardized test online, read the directions, and familiarize themselves with the test-specific language and the various question types.

How to take a Standardized Test Online

Since this test is online, students need familiarity with the software. They’ll need to know how to access the menu for embedded resources. They’ll also need the necessary technology skills to respond to each question type. Here are some of the skills students need on the test.

  • Select an option
  • Deselecting an option by selecting a different option
  • Highlight an option by selecting an option
  • Mark a checkbox corresponding to an option
  • Deselecting a checkbox that’s already marked to select a different option
  • Typing a response into a text box
  • Selecting text, clicking, and dragging text to a new area
  • Start and pause an audio clip by selecting buttons

In addition, you can provide students with a review of the universal tools available for them to use during the test. Below are some of the tools available to all students during testing.

  • Digital notepad
  • English dictionary, glossary, and thesaurus
  • Expandable items
  • Expandable passages
  • Highlighter
  • Line reader
  • Mark for review
  • Scratch paper
  • Strikethrough
  • Zoom in/zoom out

Since this test is online, students should also be getting daily practice with their typing skills. This will facilitate the typing portion of the test, such as the short response and the essay.

Understanding Standardized Testing Directions

Taking a test online can be difficult, and reading the directions carefully can be a task in itself. Teachers can allow students to familiarize themselves with test-specific language (e.g., most likely, best, pick two choices) by having them log in to the student interface practice test (click here to access the website). This will allow them to get the practice they need reading the directions and let them ask questions if something is unclear before taking the test.

Various question Types

As students prepare to take the test, it’s important they have an opportunity to view and practice each question type. Below are some question types that will appear on the test.

  • Multiple Choice
  • Single Correct Response
  • Highlight the correct response
  • Multiple Correct Responses (checkboxes)
  • Matching Tables, including True/False as well as Yes/No
  • Short Text
  • Two-part multiple-choice questions
  • Hot Text (select and move text)
  • Listening Tasks

EXPERT TIP: For an in-depth analysis of each standardized question type, you can watch this video provided by the California Department of Education.

Opportunities for Writing Practice

We can begin by creating opportunities for students to write in all three genres: narrative, information, and opinion, using the Writing Process stages. Students can apply what they have been practicing during Writing Workshop to standardized tests. You can teach the specifics of the testing genre in a workshop structure. This will help students understand how they can apply the writing skills they’ve learned in workshop to a passage or prompt on a test.

Just as students learn to plan, elaborate, revise, edit, and publish during their writing, they’ll do the same during the test’s essay portion. Below are some examples of teaching points that they can use for a narrative “test prep” unit:

  • Writers start the process of writing to a test prompt by reading the assignment and underlining the action words to help them understand what they have to do.
  • Writers prepare to write their narrative for a test prompt by reading the given sources and starring interesting things so they can easily cite parts of the sources in their story.
  • Writers who need to write a narrative on a test, plan their narrative by thinking of the information they remember most from the sources they just read and then turning that into a problem and a solution.
  • Writers continue planning a narrative for a test prompt by using the hamburger outline or story mapping to write the characters, setting, problem, and solution, keeping the narrative organized.
  • Writers plan their narrative to answer a test prompt by making themselves the main character and deciding who the other characters are.
  • Writers plan their narrative for a test prompt by describing the solution in their graphic organizer (hamburger or story mapping).
  • Writers draft their narrative for a test prompt by starting their story with a description of the characters and setting so that their narrative is well-organized.
  • Writers continue to draft their narratives for a test prompt by starting a second paragraph describing the character’s problem.
  • Writers finish their draft for a narrative prompt by writing the solution to their story.
  • Writers always revise their drafts by rereading and adding details from the source to make their story more believable.
  • Writers revise their draft for a narrative by rereading and adding descriptions of the character’s actions to make their story come to life.
  • Writers revise their narrative draft for a test prompt by looking for places to add the characters’ dialogue so their story comes to life.
  • Writers edit their narrative for a test prompt by thinking of what they know about spelling and punctuation and rereading their story to correct any spelling and punctuation mistakes.

EXPERT TIP: At the end of each unit of study, you can give students the practice they need by giving them a state-aligned writing prompt and allowing them to think through how they would answer the prompt using the stages of the writing process. You can visit the CAASPP website for released copies of previous performance tasks.

Below are examples of teaching points that you can use when creating a test prep unit:

Suggested Test Prep Teaching Points for Writing

  • Pay close attention to the prompt (what the task is asking them to do). Some prompts ask us to provide information or explain something. Readers need to analyze an informative/explanatory prompt to better understand the question.
  • Notice the prompt (what the task asks them to do). Some prompts ask us to provide information or explain something. Readers need to analyze a narrative prompt to better understand the question.
  • When writing to a prompt, writers PLAN for how their writing will go. They can make a timeline (for narrative writing) or boxes and bullets (for informational or opinion writing).
  • When writing to a prompt, writers must include evidence from the text that supports their answer. Often, the task will ask them to identify text evidence that BEST supports their ideas.
  • When writing to a prompt, it’s important that their thoughts are clear and easy to understand. One way writers do this is by using thought prompts and transitional phrases. (Examples include: One important thing to know… An example of this… Evidence of _________ includes…)
  • When writing to a prompt, our thoughts should be clear and easy to understand. One way writers do this is by using transitional phrases to link ideas together. (Examples of this include: Also,… Furthermore,… In addition,…)
  • When writing to a prompt, writers make sure they reread what they’ve written to see if it makes sense and edit their work for conventions (punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization). They can use the spell check feature on the online assessment.

Suggested Test Prep Teaching Points for Reading

  • Readers monitor their reading by talking through the text. This means they have a conversation in their head about what they’re reading. They can reread each paragraph and talk through the text.
  • Readers determine the main idea and identify key details. They do this by rereading each paragraph and asking, “What is the main idea? What details support the main idea?” and annotating the text.
  • Readers analyze story characters by thinking about what characters say, think, and do. They do this to grow ideas about the text: learning more about the character and/or thinking about the author’s message or main idea. (Reading narrative)
  • Readers also use different skills to define unfamiliar words. They can determine the meaning of an unknown word by using the words and sentences around it (context clues).
  • Readers identify main ideas and then think about what they have in common (find a pattern). Then readers can put the main ideas together to write a summary.
  • Readers notice the structure of the text they are reading. It is easier to understand the text when we know how it is structured and organized. (Some examples of text structures in nonfiction: compare and contrast; pros and cons; cause and effect)

While some students may feel stressed when it comes to standardized testing, our role as educators is key. When students prepare, they’re less likely to feel the pressure — setting them up for a successful testing period.

Allowing your students to practice workshop regularly will prepare them for anything the test throws their way.

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