3 Ways to Prepare Students for the New State Tests

By on March 23, 2015

The new state tests are here. For real this time. They are here and the scores are being reported. We might not have API or a way to calculate it, but the scores count. Students will be measured and the data will be reported. This is both exciting and scary at the same time. We don't know how students will do on these new exams.

Many or our students across the country took a new state exam last week. Many more will take them this week and will continue to test through spring break. The tests seemed to challenge students in ways I haven't seen before. Some of our states are using computer adapted tests (CAT) and others have administered a paper version. Unfortunately, the tests are not common across the country. A growing number of states are developing their own tests and passing on the PARCC and Smarter Balanced versions. I can't speak about state developed tests, but I can say that the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests (based on the sample tests they release) expect students to read deeply and support ideas with multiple sources. The readings are long and the questions require intense focus. 

My 8th grade students just finished with the Smarter Balanced test. It won't shock you to know that my students didn't like the test. It's not the standards; it's the simple fact that tests (especially long ones) can be boring and difficult. California's new exam was long. It was most likely boring. And it was very difficult. So how do we prepare our students for these exams? As a teacher, spring time always gets me thinking about next year. It's that time when we think about what we can do differently and how we can improve as teachers. This eCoach will focus on three strategies teachers can use to prepare students for the new state exams.


1. Developing Performance Task (PT) Questions

Writing a Performance Task (PT) question can be challenging. The PT on your state test will most likely be long and complex; it is layered with multiple directions and asks students to read and write about various texts. Students need to learn how to break down a PT. The skill of reading and comprehending a PT must be explicitly taught. LiteracyTA recognizes this need and has provided a PT template in the Prompt Builder. The image on the left shows you how to find the template. Click on Middle/High > Non-Fiction > Writing > W9. Then, scroll down to Pro/Con Performance Task with Multiple Stimuli. The template provides the major sections in a PT. You will need to fill in the blanks and provide a scenario. In about 15 minutes, you will have a performance task that you can use to teach students how to break down these types of academic tasks.


2. Creating Performance Tasks (PT) with Google Apps

If your students are taking the computer adaptive test (CAT), they will need to learn how to take a test with a split screen. For the CAT test, there are two sections on the PT. One section is short answer and the second section is an essay. In the short answer section, the readings are on the left and the questions are on the right. There are two main scroll bars. Students can scroll down the passage or they can scroll down the questions. There are expanding tools on the test to help students focus on the reading before they answer the questions, but the majority of the test is viewed as a split screen. I recommend taking practice tests throughout the year so students have some experience with this type of testing platform.

If you want to make your own online test that resembles the state test, consider using Google Sites. Because Google Apps are so integrated, you can easily embed documents into Google Sites. Here is how it works. First, create a Google Site. Then, create a Google Doc. Copy and paste a text into the Google Doc. Next, create a Google Form. Use the form to develop your test questions. You can ask multiple choice and short answer questions. Once you have created your Google Doc and Google Form, you are ready to insert them into Google Sites. Click "edit" on the Home page or create a new page and click "Edit." Click on "Layout" in the toolbar and select two column (simple) format. Two columns will appear in the body of the webpage. Click in the left column and select "Insert." Hover over Drive, then click on Google Doc. Search for your document and select it. Click in the right column and repeat the steps. This time, click on Forms. Search for your Form and select it. Because the Google Doc and Form will be longer than the visible space on the webpage, scroll bars will automatically appear, giving the site the feeling of the state test. Students can answer questions directly in the form. Their answer will be stored in a data base that is called "Responses" in your Google Drive. Be sure to add a name field at the top of your Google Form so that you can match students to their answers in the data base.  

3. Practicing Writing Skills for Document Based Questions (DBQ)

This last strategy is fairly straight forward. All you need is two to five sources that discuss the same topic. The sources can be a mix of short texts, visuals, and videos. The goal is to practice with students how to bring multiple sources together into one discussion. Students need to learn how to introduce sources so that a reader can tell when the writer's voice has stopped and another voice is being included in the discussion. Students also need to learn how to synthesize multiple ideas into the flow of ideas. There are a number of DBQ companies that provide sets of texts that you can use to practice writing with sources or you can find your own texts and create your own DBQ sets. Teaching students how to answer document based questions will help them prepare for the new state exam, AP tests, and the SAT test.  

Interested in learning more about evidence-based writing skills, come join us this summer in San Diego at LiteracyTA University.

Remember to contribute to our National Professional Learning Team (NPTL) writing project. We want to compile a list of amazing short writing prompts for teachers to use all over the country. Don't worry about format, one of the team members will come through and make sure every slide looks amazing. Want to know more? Check out the eCoach.

Do you love LiteracyTA?  Now is the time to get your friends to fall in love with LiteracyTA too.

During the month of March, we want to reward you for spreading the word about how much you love LiteracyTA.  When your friends purchase our online TA, have them enter the coupon code FRIEND and write your email in the notes section on the checkout screen.  Your friends will receive $25 off their 1 year membership and you will get an additional 3 months of membership for free.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital resources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
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