Friday, January 9, 2009

Test-taking Strategies

For years I fought the idea of first graders taking high-stakes type comprehension assessments. I hated the idea of us becoming so focused with high stakes testing that we let it dictate our curriculum. I argued every year that if our first grade children loved reading, if they had good strategies for decoding words and discerning vocabulary, and if they could retell a story with details that they were doing everything in comprehension that they needed to do to prepare them for any type of high stakes test they would be taking in third grade. However, every year I would hear teachers and parents talk about the "gap" between first and second grade and how, even though first grade teachers would promote children through the levels by using a running record and an oral retelling to check comprehension, those same children could not pass comprehension tests on those same levels in second grade. I have begun to feel like you do when the tide is coming in and you are bowled over by a huge wave and that huge wave is all those teachers and parents advocating for more testing in first grade! I feel like I am being pulled out into the ocean!

As I reviewed the second grade expectation and poured over the data, I soon realized that it wasn't that the children didn't understand the stories. The problem was that they didn't understand the format in which they were being asked. In order to show what they knew, they needed some work in test-taking strategies. They needed to know how to bubble in the entire circle so there was no mistaking which answer they marked. They needed to know that they should read all the answers before marking one, because the BEST answer might be the last choice. They needed to know how the test writer might try to "trick" them by giving them answers that were "almost" right and so on.

Exactly which test taking strategies did children need to know in first grade and how were we going to teach them? As we discussed all of this over time in first grade and in second grade and with the grade levels combined, we began to shape a policy that made sense for both grade levels. Finally, with the help of second and third grade teachers, we developed a list of strategies for first graders, an order in which they would be taught and some suggestions on how best to teach the strategies each week before they were tested on Friday. 

Because of the extensive work done by first grade teachers, the second grade teachers now know exactly what skills children should come to them with and where to begin their own teaching.


Suzanne said...

Go back several years before this first grade conversation and you had the same one going on at Grade 2. Go back several years before the Grade 2 conversation and you had it going on at Grade 3 when standardized testing was introduced to that grade level.

The important thing here is that we are having these vertical conversations in reference to preparing students for the next grade level and beyond. However, that it is just one part of our preparation. It is not the end all be all, and it doesn't interfer with other good quality instruction, it is just part of it.

I'd be interested in hearing from other schools about their testing habits at Grade 1, because I know there must be some who don't believe it is necessary.

Thanks for starting the conversation.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome. I teach 2nd grade and am looking for testing strategies. Does your 2nd grade team have a wikki like the first grade? Thanks, Brenda