J2 Content – Perspectives

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State Test Preparation – A Worthwhile Practice or Waste of Instructional Time?

Is preparation for state testing a good practice, or is it just “teaching to the test”?

Many teachers complain every year when it gets close to that dreaded state testing time. There are principals who tell them to spend that month before testing doing “test prep.” Is this a good teaching practice? Is it a worthwhile use of our instructional time?

I would venture to guess that most teachers would say no; that we are teaching our students to be nothing but good test-takers. They may not know how to think critically, but they can sure color in those bubbles!

Additionally, most state tests mainly consist of multiple choice test questions. Does this really show what our students have learned? In credential courses teachers learn about the value of informal, ongoing assessments (like simple teacher observations and anecdotal notes), and students choosing work samples for portfolio assessments. Students can be given choices of different project ideas to demonstrate what they have learned.  For example, when I was teaching third grade, we covered a unit of study about Martin Luther King, Jr. At the end of the unit, I wanted my students to demonstrate what they had learned. Rather than give them a traditional multiple choice, matching, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank test, I presented them with a list of choices: they could write a written report, do a puppet show, write and perform a skit, do a PowerPoint presentation, make a poster, or write and perform a poem, rap, or song. I also allowed them to work with partners or in small groups so they could collaborate and use their teamwork skills.

My students were so excited about this project that they asked me to invite in their parents and the principal to see them present their projects. There were two PowerPoint presentations, a puppet show, a skit, and a poster. I truly feel that these projects were meaningful assessments, and my students will remember what they learned for a long time. Students were able to choose something relating to their own interests, learning styles, and tap into those multiple intelligences… and they had fun!

On the other hand, multiple-choice, standardized testing may be a necessary evil. In our current educational world of No Child Left Behind, how can schools demonstrate that students are becoming proficient without some method of standardized testing? With the sheer number of students that need to be tested, the only feasible way is to give them tests that can be computer-scored. Some advocates of this type of testing would say that tests are just another part of life. You take tests throughout your school career, and then come the tests for college – AP Tests, ACT,  PSAT, SAT, GMAT, GRE (the acronyms go on and on…). Some employers require potential employees to take tests before they can be hired. So, testing may just be a part of our society, and teaching students to be good test-takers may be a valuable skill. Test preparation does alleviate some test anxiety because students become familiar with the format, rigor, and types of questions they will encounter on the “real” test. It also allows students to review what they have learned, which helps to reinforce concepts that may have been unclear or just forgotten.

Although there are better ways to assess students’ knowledge and proficiency of subject matter, it does not appear that the current methods of state testing are going to change any time soon. Therefore, it may be in our students’ best interest to help them be prepared for testing. Teachers must be aware of the “burn out factor” though, and not spend too much time on test preparation. Sometimes students spend so much time preparing for the test that they burn out before the real test occurs.

I believe that teachers should spend no more than one to two weeks on test preparation before state testing. Teachers should teach students test-taking strategies, such as reading the questions before reading the passage, eliminating answer choices that cannot be correct, reading all answer choices before choosing an answer, and reading the question carefully. Students should also be sure that they have answered every question. Try to eliminate stress related to the test. For example, I have had students tell me that they think they will be held back and have to repeat the grade if they do not do well on the test. This just adds unnecessary anxiety.

Encourage students to get a good night’s sleep, have a healthy breakfast, and to do their best. That is the most we can ask for.

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