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Empower Students to Score Higher on Tests

If you’re a teacher who loves testing and data, then stop reading right now. But if you’re like me, and I know so many of you are, then you’ll understand exactly what I mean when I say that standardized testing is the root of all that is evil in teaching.

When I first started my career, I worked in a district in charge of a pull-out program for gifted students. I was a beginning teacher and really had no idea what I was doing. What I did know was I loved teaching kids. So for many glorious years, I created my own curriculum for an ELA based program and together my students and I explored ancient worlds, wrote short story collections, and delved into topics that we loved. None of this was tested, so students were free to learn without the fear and anxiety of the test.

Fast forward more than a decade later. I took a job in my hometown where I was raising my own kids. The reality of a teaching a tested subject hit me hard. From the first year, I knew I had to find a way to keep kids thinking at higher levels throughout the class period without drilling them to death with boring test prep passages and editing paragraphs. In fact, I secretly did not use one single workbook resource to prepare my students for standardized testing. Risky, right?

You might not have the option of flying solo when it comes to your curriculum choices. I’m finding that it’s more common than not for teachers to be using a scripted curriculum. Even if that’s you, there are strategies you can use to up your game and get students thinking critically every single day.

"Standardized testing is the root of all that is evil in teaching."

Here’s how I did it and had students who consistently scored higher than campus and state norms. Two words – EMPOWER STUDENTS. When you give students power over their learning, something changes in their minds. I’ll be sharing more in coming posts about critical thinking, but one of the easiest strategies I used was this: Put students in the role of test writer. It sounds crazy, but when I gave my students the task of creating answer choices for test question stems, they began to look at the questions in a new light.

One resource I created is STAAR Test Prep Task Cards. When students worked with the task cards, they were thinking at a much higher level than before. If you’re short on time, my task cards are no-prep, ready to print, cut, and use.

You can create your own. I developed the task cards to be used like this:

1. Select a passage and pre-read with students without much discussion and analysis.

2. Group students into teams of 3-5 and tell them they will be writing answers for the passage questions. Make a big deal about your confidence in their ability to be test writers!

3. Set ground rules for formatting the answer choices (you’ve got plenty of models to pull from to share with students, so they have something to model).

4. Assign each group a different question from the passage. You can also assign groups the same question and analyze as a class the different answer choices they wrote and why some were more effective than others.

Three things make this work:

  • Students view their role as learners differently.

  • Students are thinking about their thinking when writing questions (meta cognition).

  • Students become active participants instead of passive recipients.

I challenge you to incorporate this strategy in your classroom and watch as students take ownership of their learning, get excited about being let in on a “testing secret”, and score higher on your assignments and tests than ever before. It's time to start empowering teachers and students.

Share this with any teacher you know who is ready to make some changes!

Happy teaching!

straight outta class

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