3 Ways Teachers Can Prepare Students for Testing Season
Between now and the end of June, thousands of students will dive head first into assessments: PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT Aspire tests are at the top of the list. Designed to gauge a student’s overall growth and career and college readiness, these tests assess students against the Common Core States Standards (CCSS) or some variation created by individual states. Assessment season has always been a particularly nerve-racking time of year for teachers and parents alike, but this year’s anxiety levels are at an all-time high due to the full implementation of CCSS. As former educators, the ThinkCERCA team knows all too well the challenges assessments place on teachers. But before you let this year’s stress levels get out of control, we have a few tips to help you prepare your students for the months ahead.
1. Get Your Kids Comfortable With Technology
Every student’s digital literacy skills are different. Even though your kids may seem tech savvy, electronic testing environments have been known to throw students off. Simple things like scrolling and back buttons can seem foreign and unintuitive. Just like teaching any genre of text, we can teach students how this genre works, so they aren’t feeling their way around an interface when they should really be reading and thinking critically in preparation for writing. As teacher Chris Aviles points out on EdSurge, making sure students know what to expect during the testing experience is crucial. You can start by helping your students get accustomed to the online testing environment using these helpful resources:
- PARCC’s TestNav 8 Tutorial
- PARCC Practice Tests
- Smarter Balanced’s Equation Response Editor
- Smarter Balanced’s Practice Tests and Resources
- ACT Apsire’s TestNav 8 Tutorial
- ACT Aspire Practice Tests
If these sites aren't enough, Chris also has some great resources for simulating testing environments using Google Apps for Education tools, which should boost your students’ digital literacy skills overall.
2. Get Kids Discussing and Debating
Aside from technology hurdles, helping your students understand how to approach text analysis—as opposed teaching what’s in the test— will be more effective in the long run. No matter which test your students take, critical thinking is a key component to each. An easy way to get your students thinking critically is to use differentiated texts to get them discussing and debating with one another. As Catalyst Chicago notes, debate skills were shown in two peer-reviewed studies to have a "measurably substantial impact on students’ ACT scores, grades, and college-readiness." Engaging students in discussions about everyday problems and issues helps them practice their speaking, listening, and vocabulary skills. Teachers looking to create debates in their classrooms can view strategies and lesson plans on site's like Education World or sign up for ThinkCERCA's free QuickCERCA lessons to get instant access to debatable informational texts and ideas. Our differentiated texts are focused on current issues, social studies, and STEM topics, and can easily cater to each student's readiness level no matter what the discussion or debate is about. This leads to students learning from one another, a proven way to keep them engaged.
3. Get Kids Practicing the CERCA Framework
To truly master academic writing, discussion, and debate, students must be able to back up their arguments with evidence—a key component to PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT Aspire tests. The CERCA Framework walks students through this process with scaffolded applied lessons. These lessons teach students how to develop a claim, explain their reasoning, find evidence to support their claim, and write arguments that are appropriately targeted to their audience. In fact, this research-based process helped a fifth grade classroom raise reading scores by 2.2 grades on the NWEA Map test.
No matter which test your students take, there's no need to panic. These three simple strategies won't just prepare students for the months ahead but for a successful life post-school, which is what teaching is all about, after all.
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Elizabeth Riley Boyer is an experienced journalist, digital content strategist, and operations manager. Prior to joining ThinkCERCA, she was part of the founding team at Impact Engine, Chicago’s first social impact investment fund and accelerator. As Impact Engine’s Director of Operations & Communications, Elizabeth oversaw the company’s overall processes, day-to-day planning and finances, curriculum development, marketing strategy, and community outreach. Elizabeth also spent three years at Chicago magazine, most recently as its Digital Engagement Editor, where she managed the organization’s social media and reader engagement initiatives. Elizabeth also works as a freelance content strategist, writer, and communications consultant. Her recent writings on impact entrepreneurship have been featured by the Huffington Post and Crain’s Chicago Business. In 2007, Elizabeth helped open a private school for underprivileged children while volunteering for a nonprofit organization in the Dominican Republic. This experience inspired her to quit a paper-pushing job at an insurance brokerage firm to pursue a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Elizabeth also holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from the University of Texas at Austin.