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Test Prep Planning – A Self Analysis for Schools

Test Prep Planning

Ed Directions continues to emphasize the importance of preparing students to work at the level of the state assessment. We’ve also emphasized mastering the formats and venues they would face on the assessment whether they’re going to have an assessment this year or take an assessment that will count. This is critical to maintaining the learner/performer growth embedded in state standards expectations. We believe that it is important that all students develop the assessment competencies, the student confidence, the mastery of assessment format and venue, and student thinking patterns and habits of mind related to successful test taking and successful transitions. Our reasoning is based on a number of factors:

  • State standards expectations (and the assessments based on those expectations) “grow” in language, complexity of use and rigor from pre-k to 12. The standards and the assessments are “cumulative” in nature (except for some end of year high school exams) and can include “learnings” for more than one year
  • The expectations include “required learnings” (e.g. thinking strategies, habits of mind, real-world experiences) that are not identified as “tested content but are embedded in many test questions and are expected to “grow” student mastery of content.
  • State testing “grows” in terms of the critical vocabulary of the test, the thinking elements of the test (e.g. critical reading, critical writing, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making), and the length/duration the students are required to stay highly engaged.
  • The format and venue (types of questions, length and types of readings, electronically enhanced questions, multiple discipline questions, etc.) both become more difficult and more complex as students move from grade to grade.
  • Student performance on an assessment requires an appropriate attitude (consistent best practice effort), appropriate perceptions (confidence in test taking ability and an understanding of what “good work” looks like on a state test) in addition to the thinking component of the test.

We emphasize that, in the list of concerns above, the only thing that can actually be “taught” are the critical vocabularies (the language – concepts and tasks – of the discipline and the test). The other elements (e.g. best effort work ethic, independent thinking, appropriate perceptions and attitudes, real-world experiences) are developed in the “experienced curriculum” ( the experiences the student encounters as he/she interacts with the teacher, the lessons, and the collective experience of the classroom).

Since our goal is success for all, school leaders are going to have to look at how schooling has changed since March 2020 (even if students have been in “regular” school), and assess the impact that that could have on student learnings from both the taught and the experienced curricula.

  • All students who missed at least one year of standardized testing (most will have missed a second year). This means that if schools have not attended to assessment preparation, students will tackle next year’s test without two years of critical assessment maturation. This means, for example, that many of next year’s fifth graders will not have the third and fourth grade foundation testing experiences, and many of next year’s eighth graders could be taking a test without ever having taken a middle school test.
  • Ed Directions’ analysis of the “pandemic curriculum” in several schools has indicated that there were a number of problems with developing the “taught curriculum,” and that very little attention was given to an escalating “experienced curriculum.” The model, or models, used by district (e.g. virtual school, hybrid schools, home schools, alternating schedules, etc) did not seem to have much impact on this observation.
  • In one of our early blogs, we talked about “who is at risk” and how the uncertainties and lack of classroom “comfort zone” conditions can create stress and anxiety in students. We have also provided a toolset for determining how prepared students were for a complex, high-stakes test.
  • It’s impossible for a student to become a confident and competent test taker if he/she doesn’t know how to learn (attend, acquire, organize, create meaning, and use independently), how to perform (think with and think about content, analyze and build a proficient completion plan), and how to demonstrate potential on a test (use task analyze the test questions, followed directions accurately, use “test wiseness” strategies, control attention, review and revise to proficiency, etc.). This type of preparation proved to be difficult or impossible in most of the pandemic models. The teacher/student and student/student interactions, the teacher monitoring/shaping, the ongoing collective experience growth, and the “teachable moment” opportunities that are a strength of the regular classroom culture have not been possible during much of the. Since March 2020.

During April 2021 we are encouraging all the schools that we are working with to assess their approach to preparing students for testing at grade level, whether they’re going to have a test that doesn’t count or even skipping a year of testing. Included below is a tool Ed Directions coaches use to facilitate a discussion of classroom preparation to this point in the school year.

Testing Period Readiness – Teacher Self-Assessment

Test Prep – Classrooms

Class Prepared?


All students understand non-cognitive factors that can reduce their performance and have a personal plan (e.g., an attendance plan) for remediating those factors.



All “at-risk” or “must move” students have been assigned to cohort groups and have adult mentors with whom they discuss their progress regularly.



All students have practiced and mastered the formats and venues of the state test.



All students can develop rubrics for test questions and check answers against those rubrics.



Students have been assigned to teachers who can address identified non-cognitive barriers (e.g., teacher dependence, attention deficit, or test anxiety for testing).



Trial run experiences were provided for students to test their readiness and formulate personal plans.



Students have established collective goals for the Testing Period and specific goals for each individual test.



Data profiles and collections of student work from the Calibrating Period are used to monitor student growth and provide targeted assessment support.



Ineffective teacher and student work were eliminated in the Calibrating Period.



All students understand the test preparation plan and are motivated to give their best effort.



All students understand the need for perfect attendance and timeliness and have practiced test week entry and exit protocols and schedules.




This tool set can also be found as part of a series of tools in the Ed Directions book – Turning Around Turnaround Schools, Volume 2 – Embracing the Rhythm of the Learner Year – available for purchase now online. This tool and others are also available for download, for free, on our website – Teacher tools and resources for the Rhythm of the Learner Year.

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