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Preparing for Standardized Testing – Band-Aid strategies to maximize the scores of all students

By mid-March, teachers and school administrators should know which students are ready for the assessment and which ones are not. If you’ve not already created student profiles, then now is the time to do so.  Student profiles will help you identify areas of student strength as well as areas that might prove to be barriers for student achievement on state assessments.

Creating student profiles involves addressing several different facets of student performance.  We’ll discuss two of them here to get you started.

Assessing Characteristics of Proficient Students

We have compiled a list of characteristics that have statistically shown to provide higher test scores.  These characteristics can help you begin to identify those students who need aggressive interventions and band-aid strategies to demonstrate their potential on year-end tests. Below is a definition of each characteristic, paired with some support strategies for students who are lacking in each.

Attends school regularly – has a positive attitude about school and schoolwork and makes every effort to get to school. Students who miss more than 10 days will probably perform well below their potential.
  • planning for 100% attendance during testing
  • having practice days for 100% attendance
  • providing personal mentors for students who have missed more than five days


Organized and prepared for class – is regularly on time and prepared (emotionally and academically) for class.
  • provide a directed “prep” checklist for March/April classroom work
  • end each class with planning for tomorrow reviews


Has mastered successful classroom work – is able to independently actively attend, acquire learnings, organize learnings, and create meaning for learnings.
  • provide worksheets supporting the work at each level that the student can use to perform the work proficiently
  • pair/share each step of classroom work until all students can perform the steps independently


Is an independent learner – can work independently without the need for teacher prompts or support. Can identify priority learnings and independently acquire those learnings.
  • “wean” the students from their “crutches” (e.g. I do, your pair does, you do independently but the pair revises, you do independently)
  • “struggle time,” individual work then teacher or student demonstrations of how it could have been done proficiently
Stays highly-engaged in even the most rigorous classwork – stays highly engaged in rigorous classwork until the task is finished, revised, and proficient.
  • using teacher/student off-task timelines to monitor/self-monitor engagement
  • “chunking” time on task to move from initial levels to high levels of engagement


Reviews and revises work to proficiency –  understands what is required for proficient work, reviews work and revises to proficiency before submitting the work.
  • introduce learner and task rubrics and follow the independent development above to build independent use of rubrics to identify weakness in work and revise the work to proficiency
  • use pair share to provide a peer evaluation that can be used to revise work to proficiency


Links learning to assessments – understands that learnings can be/will be tested and is able to project how learnings might be tested and are develop test questions for the learnings
  • periodically during class provide a simple and a complex test question for the students to answer independently are in pair share
  • in class with students individually are in pair share groups write a simple and a complex question for one of the days learning sets


Is an independent, critical, and creative thinker – thinking is absolutely critical for creating meaning for what’s been learned but is also a critical characteristic for attacking tasks that are outside the students comfort zone.
  • “directed thinking” flow sheets
  • problem of the week or the unit activities


Identifies real-world applications for learning – is able to see applications beyond the classroom/test level and is able to link learnings to tasks and interests.
  • “brainstorm” sessions
  • adult presentations slinking learnings to their job


Percieves self as a proficient student – considers themself a successful student (even if it’s not completely true).
  • Adult mentor to help student identify personal successes
  • personal good student checklist to use to focus on what the student wants to accomplish


Understands personal strengths and weaknesses – is self-aware and understands personal barriers to success in academic activities (e.g. attention deficits or personal likes/dislikes).

  • Profile checklist to identify strengths and weakness
  • adult mentor to support self-assessment


Proficient student learning characteristics are critical to preparing students for high-stakes accountability assessment. Students who lack these characteristics will perform well below their potential on complex and difficult assessments.

Tools for Assessing Your Students

So not all the proficiencies above are a clear yes/no answer for students in the gray area.  This is where a variety of tools can come into play to help you decide which students to apply band-aid strategies to, and which to hold off on.  The tools below can give you an idea of how you start to sort students into yes/no categories of need.

Ed Directions coaches have found that many times schools that are chronically underperforming have serious attendance problems. (One past partner school had a 70% attendance rate for staff and a 50% attendance rate for students). Research indicates that even a few days out of class can have an impact on student overall performance on an assessment. Serious attendance issues not only impact learning and performing but are major indicators for problems in student attitude and student perception of self.

One of the first things our coaches will do coming into the school is check the attendance rate and the schools attendance plan. If this is done early in the year, we can develop systemic plans, policies, and procedures to address the problem. In mid-March, however, Ed Directions coaches will help the schools develop “Band-Aid” interventions designed to have a short-term effect. We use the chart included here to count and sort students who have attendance issues.

Possible Attendance Issues

Student NameMissed 5 – 10Missed 10 – 20Missed 20+
Minor negative impact on performanceserious impact on performanceMay perform at less than one half potential

When addressing the problem of attendance Ed Directions has an approach that parallels its approach to using test scores.

  • First – quantify the problem. How many students in the school have attendance issues?
  • Second – identify. Who are the students who fall in each category?
  • Third – analyze. Is the problem situational (e.g. serious injury) or is it chronic (e.g. an ongoing multiyear problem or an issue each year at the same time because of job or family responsibilities – as tobacco harvest time)

In mid-March our coaches are stressing “Band-Aid” strategies for getting the students to school during test prep and testing. Some of these include:

  • creating a cohort of students with like problems with an adult who has “access” the students to act as mentor and cheerleader in helping the students get to school
  • multiple 100% practice days with rewards or incentives for classes or core groups that make 100% attendance
  • homeroom attendance “thermometers” or cohort “thermometers” that record the percent in attendance each day with rewards or incentives for classes at court to maintain the highest percentage over a week
  • cohorts are class telephone trees to remind students to get to class on time
  • designated caller system to call the home of students who aren’t on the school bus or at breakfast who call the home to find out if the student coming to school and emphasizing the importance of being in class

One problem that needs to be addressed by mid-March is the issue of student independence as learner and performer but particularly as performer. This is best addressed during the opening of school by developing an ongoing independence building program. Students who remain teacher dependent a test time will probably perform well below their potential. By mid-March any students who are still teacher or environment dependent need to be identified and supported.

Possible Independence Issues

Student NameTruly
Independent within comfort zoneMinimal teacher support neededextensive teacher support
Can work/learn without teacher prompting our supportCan work without teacher support in an area where the student feels comfortable of successTeacher support or prompt needed to start or complete a taskHands on teacher support needed for student to start, complete, review, and revise work

During the test prep, it is critical to reduce barriers to proficient learning and to support students who aren’t proficient yet with “Band-Aids strategies” (e.g. directed work flowcharts, “strategy of the day” activities in the lesson plan, directed notetaking sheet). During the test prep students must be able to learn to proficiently.

Assessing Characteristics of Proficient Test Takers

There are a number of reasons that students might not perform to their potential on year-end tests, many of which are more than simply, “the student didn’t know the content.” Students need to be trained and experienced test takers.  Active test preparation is key to student success.

By mid-March, teachers and administrators need to know which students are successful test takers, and which are not yet competent or confident when faced with a complex assessment. By knowing the characteristics of competent test takers, and which of your students do not fit into this category, band-aid strategies can help boost test scores.

As before in this post, we’ll provide you with some characteristics of proficient test takers, and some bulleted suggestions of strategies to help you support student progress.

Perceives self as a successful test taker – if a student believes that they cannot be successful on a test they will almost surely score below their potential. Positive perception of self is critical.
  • individual teacher/student review of strengths in terms of memory and test taking
  • a review of past successes in learning work or testing work


Is confident in approaching new or challenging tasks and can attack even difficult questions independently – Independence is critical issue. Students must be truly independent or independent within the test comfort zone to effectively demonstrate their potential. Teacher dependent students rarely reach their potential.
  • “What do I do best” in this class activities each week followed by goal setting
  • an “I met the challenge” writing prompt about a time the student successfully challenged a daunting task


Is able to endure and complete long questions or assessments – endurance is a critical issue. Many of the tests require students to read and answer questions that are longer, more complex, and about more content than they faced during class time or on classroom tests. Students who can’t stay highly engaged in the task tend to guess at the last few questions in a section.
  • “Escalating” classroom tasks gradually expanding the length of involvement and the thinking required
  • provide a “timed” test by having the students time how long it takes them to answer specific types of questions and questions of extended length


Has ready access to long-term memory – Any state test is a test of long-term memory not short-term memory. This means the students must have created meaning for what they’ve learned and have the learnings organized for retrieval in long-term memory. Students who only work to short-term memory will probably not recall specific learnings from earlier units.
  • Have groups of students build a priority learning list for each unit from the beginning of school from memory then from notes, texts, or notebooks
  • assign small groups of students one of the units covered during the year and have each individual student submit questions for a test on that unit that would be given to the class as a whole.


Is a confident and competent thinker (critical and creative) – Success on tests and in making successful transitions requires effective thinking strategies and habits of mind.
  • Review the “thinking” tasks that were included in the years work and have students rate their effectiveness in the different types of thinking
  • have students select different types of thinking work that they’ve done over the year (you can provide a list for them to choose from) have them review what they did and find three ways they could have done more proficient thinking
  • see the Ed Directions blog on five leg model and the four column method


It is competent in all the types of questions found on the assessment – Question types differ from state to state and from state to national testing. If a student is not familiar with the types of questions on a test, they can be thrown off and miss the question even if they know the content.
  • On a unit test include all the different types found on the state assessment and identify the type of question that the student is going to answer
  • have a pair are a small group create a set including each of the types of questions on the current unit to administer and discuss with another group


Checks answers and revises to proficiency – Checking work and revising to proficiency as a habit of mind required of all competent and confident students. It is fundamental to making sure the scores are not reduced from minor or inadvertent mistakes.
  • Provide some samples of test answers for students to evaluate for proficiency identifying the type of question, identifying why the answer is not proficient in revising the answer to make it proficient


Schools have from mid-March to the opening of the test window to build proficient students. If they only focus on how to schedule the students, distribute the folders, collect the folders, and send the folders back they are dealing with the competencies expected from the adults in the building.

Unfortunately, the adults don’t take the test. Before school can develop a student focused test prep plan, they need to accept that long-term solutions will probably not benefit the student this year. Instead, they need to look for barriers to student performance that can be address this year and provide Band-Aids strategies, supportive environments and adult contacts, etc.

Ed Directions likes to emphasize two things:

  • There is a difference between doing things right (management and ethics expectations) and doing the right things (things that will have an impact on student success as learner and as performer).
  • For students to become confident and competent learners and performers, school staff needs to solve the right problems, at the right times, with the right solutions.

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