Now that school has started, I'm working on new tasks and initiatives to ensure that our students have the best year possible. For many of us, success is measured by mandatory state assessments. If we had it our way, this would not be the case, but due to state and federal mandates our administrators, teachers and students are often judged by those pesky test scores.
When I taught high school, I didn't understand the pressure that elementary and middle school teachers are under to prepare students for the test. The words "teach to the test" frustrated me tremendously. If you're teaching the standards successfully, shouldn't the kids pass the test? I've learned that it's not that simple. Preparing students for the test isn't just about covering the standards, it's about covering the standards before the test in early May – our schools don't close until late June – and it's about preparing students for the various types of questions on the test.
Ideally, all of this is done without spending the entire month of April on test-prep activities, but this is a challenge due to pressure on teachers to increase scores. This year, I'm starting a new initiative titled ASK Aerobics (NJ's test is titled Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, or NJ ASK). All teachers in Grades 3-8 will assign a daily warm-up based on one of the four major mathematical strands, along with an open-ended question for the fifth day of the week. The goal is for students to complete one test-prep question each day for the entire year. As the math specialist, I will gather the work, compile data, and return to teachers a simple report showing students' strengths and weaknesses. Although it will be a lot of work, I feel that the data we collect can really inform instruction while consistently presenting students with a variety of NJ ASK-like problems. We're all keeping our fingers crossed that this will eliminate some of that last-minute pressure that teachers and students feel in the month before the test.
I'd love to hear about the pressures you feel with standardized tests and how you help students and teachers meet this challenge. Please share.
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