Taking test preparation seriously even if your state tests won’t count this year

In our planning, the Ed Directions staff looks at state standards or expectations and come up with a plan as to how they turn those expectations into positive test scores. We try to identify what the states identify as priority learnings (what students have to know), what they want the students to do with what they know (the task component), and the level at which the test will be written (the rigor, complexity, format, venue, and duration criteria that define the test). Most of this is described in state documents related to the state standards or state expectations.

The test developers establish a knowledge/task/level starting point for the first grade tested, and then escalate the expectations to parallel the expected student growth in learning and performance from one grade to the next. If your state’s testing is going to continue to escalate from grade level to grade level, and if testing is not going to be recalibrated to reflect the impact of the pandemic your students are going to have to maintain their growth, as test takers, from grade level to grade level. In our workshops, we emphasize that defining what makes up “test readiness” includes:

  • critical vocabulary of the tested discipline – concepts, relationships, and tasks
  • critical vocabulary of the assessment – the language establishes the rubric for proficient performance
  • format and venue of the test – types of questions, types of readings, types of visuals, length of questions and readings, etc.
  • the rigor of test questions – number of thinking steps, complexity of thinking required
  • engagement, and endurance components – how long is the test, how many pages are included in readings, how long students are expected to stay engaged in questions and sections
  • “test wiseness” in the strategies – time management, text clues, narrowing strategies, etc.

When Ed Directions coaches talk to schools about performance loss, they do not just talk about loss of content and behavior issues, they also talk about test readiness loss. If schools fail to take testing growth seriously and students miss a year or more of testing, we can expect that they will, at best, fail to grow or, at worst, actually regress in test readiness. If the tests are going to continue to escalate at the pre-pandemic rate, and if you are still responsible for moving all students towards “proficiency,” then you still have to take the test seriously and you have to prepare students for their grade level expectations.

In our book, Turning Around Turnaround Schools, Volume 2. – Embracing the Rhythm of the Learner Year, we mention that a lot of schools do not use the end of the year or the summer effectively, and provide several strategies for overall improvement. This year presents added challenges to using this time effectively, and while we encourage you to take each priority into consideration, we understand that you may have to just choose two, and work with those for this year.  So what do you choose?

So, there is no definitive answer here. Picking the top two would have to be determined by your students, your school culture and climate, and the impact that the pandemic has had on your students. It would also require a serious needs assessment to inform the decision.

With that being said, however, if we generally look at the End of School Period (the period left after the test), there are two priorities that I almost always recommend as being beneficial to maintaining learner and performer competencies over the summer:

  • collective memory development activities – work that engages all students in building a collective “memory” of the priority learnings and priority tasks of each unit (e.g. creating a “learner year” class glossary for next year students to use as a learning tool). Working collaboratively on this type of project builds a “legacy” memory that reinforces the years shared priority learnings.
  • transition activities – student work/activity that enables the students to look ahead at the next year, and anticipate how their work will change as they move the next level. This can be accomplished by allowing the teachers from the next grade level to swap a day for a grade level down to give students an idea of what the curriculum, classroom culture, and learning expectations will be for the next school year. This will also support the reduction of stress and anxiety, and promote successful transition to the next grade level.

For activities over the summer, it is essential to have enough lead time (during the End of Year Period) to plan several of the types of activities mentioned in our book. I always recommend developing two types:

  • maintenance activities – student work or student activities that maintain student exposure to the content and tasks learned during the year, but also involves different levels and types of use. This not only helps reduce the “loss” of content, but it stimulates a number of different brain centers, and helps build more confident and competent performers.
  • immersion activities – activities that allow students to immerse themselves in areas of talent or interest. These activities not only expand the student’s real-world operational vocabulary, but also stimulate brain centers related to high-level thinking and complex applications of learnings. For many students, this is the type of activity that will make them lifelong learners who can reach their potential as performer.

For more information on student and teacher end of year activities feel free to check out our most recent book: Turning Around Turnaround Schools, Volume 2. – Embracing the Rhythm of the Learner Year.

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