Empowering Little Learners is having a Testing Time Linky. She's got 9 questions, and I added one of my own to make this my 9th of ten sets of ten!
1. Where do you teach? I teach in New Hampshire.
2. What grade do you teach? Second grade.
3. What tests do you give? We give the Unit tests that go along with our reading program and our math program. (Reading Street and Everyday Mathematics) We recently started using DIBELS, which I love so far. There is talk of a similar Math test next year, which I would also love. Statewide testing starts in October of 3rd grade.
4. Does the test count for anything for you personally? Luckily, the test doesn't affect our pay. I'd be very concerned about that, since I got most of the low readers again this year. I don't have a problem with that, since I'm very experienced and know what to do with the lower readers, but it wouldn't be fair for my pay to be based on the results of a lower group.
5. What do you do to prepare for the test? We are exploring test taking skills and strategies. I have shared answers to open response questions and discussed why they are good answers. We have talked about some strategies such as reading all the choices and eliminating the ones that can't be true, and looking back to the text for key words. For open ended questions, the children are taught to re-read the question and make sure their answer makes sense with the question, and that it is answered completely. This is a skill that requires practice. I'd love to do more work on test taking skills, since testing is here to stay, and we want our kids to have success.
6. Can you use the data from the test to help drive your instruction? I find the DIBELS information very reliable and helpful. It gives me specifics about what the children know, and make it easy to figure out if there's a deficit in the child's learning. I'm looking forward to a similar math assessment. It's harder to use the state testing to drive instruction since we get the results 6 months after the tests are given, but if the results show the kids are weak in certain area, that gives us some information about where we might need to be stronger with the next year's tested kids.
7. If you are comfortable, how do you feel about the test? I do have mixed feelings about the tests. I like to have as much information as I can about the kids. It backs up what I know, which is helpful for report card and conference time, and it tells me what I need to teach.
Om the other hand, testing is hard on the kids as well as the teachers, and it takes away from instruction time. The Reading Street tests are tough because they're on the computer and need to be done in one session. For young kids with short attention spans and limited reading abilities, they are learning to "give up" and "click through" to the end of the test. That's certainly not what we want the kids to do!
When the state testing comes in October, the whole school is affected, even though only students in grades 3 - 5 are tested. Schedules are changed in order to give students maximum time for testing. Teacher Assistants are pulled, every space in the school is used, even the library is closed. This takes most of the month of October, which is prime learning time. (School starts late August/ early September around here, so by the time the kids are settled into the routines and are ready to really learn, the whole routine is changed and they're in testing mode for a few weeks.) For the most part, we learn a lot from the testing, but is it really worth the pressure?
8. How long do the tests take? The DIBELS test is done one on one, and takes about 15 minutes per child. The Reading Street and Everyday Math tests each take close to an hour, give or take The state tests take most of the month of October.
9. Do you have any tips? It's important to make the students as comfortable as possible for the tests. I like to play music before the test, and give plenty of opportunities to move during the tests. Brain Breaks are important, as the brain needs oxygen and kids need to move. I recommend Brain Gym exercises, but any type of movement is necessary.
As far as test preparation goes, feedback and communication are essential. The children need to know how to approach the tests, and how to use the information given to figure out answers. This doesn't come naturally. Many tests use language that is different from what the children are used to. Use of "common questions" that are released each year are recommended for the children to get used to the testing format. The students should have plenty of practice on open ended questions, and should be shown what the answers should look like.
10. Additional Challenges and Information One challenge in my school district is that the tests aren't aligned with the report cards, either by timing or by the standards assessed. The DIBELS are given in September, January, and May. The report cards are done in November, March, and June. The standards that are assessed on our report cards aren't the same things that are tested on any of the tests we give, so we have to assess those skills differently, in addition to all the other tests we give.
Another challenge in our area is that the students have no motivation to do well, particularly at the high school level. The tests don't affect whether they graduate or get into college. They don't get any feedback at all on the tests for several months. Luckily, many students take pride in themselves and do their best. Unfortunately, I've heard stories of students doodling on the test booklets and simply not answering any questions at all.
As I'm a big fan of research on the brain, I thought I'd share this article on gum chewing. In fact, I have a whole Pinterest Board on Brain Research that you might find interesting!
My greatest concern about all the testing we do: I don't want children to lose the ability to think for themselves! No matter how many tests we give, and how much test prep we do, our goal as teachers is to help the children become independent thinkers and learners. I don't ever want to lose sight of that goal!
Hopefully, the tests will become more focused and less time consuming so we can spend more time teaching and less time testing. However, I do believe that some testing is valuable. I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how to get our kids through the tests with minimal tears and maximum success.