Sunday, April 26, 2015

High Stakes Testing Tips that Ease the Pain...Airline Method

 The hype over standardized testing has become so overwhelming all over the globe that no wonder kids fear them! Their teachers spend day after day drilling them and telling them that they must focus so that they do well on their "tests"! Day after day they learn new ways of computation in math and analyzing text that simply mind-boggles them! They go home and turn on their television and still can't get away from hearing about high stakes tests. The news commentators are talking about them, even comedians are talking about them! Then they hear their parents and guardians discussing "Do we 'opt out' or not!" Kids start to think that these tests must be awful if their parents who usually enforce the rule that they must do good in school and do all of their work are thinking about not letting them take these tests! So on testing day the kids who have to take the test timidly walk by the room where all of the "lucky" kids sit whose parents have opted them out! Those kids look like they are having fun, while the kids who have to take the test feel like they are walking into their doom!
    I had eight brave special education students bravely walk into my classroom on all six days of testing to face their biggest demon..."The state test!".  I'm pretty sure that my heart strings and those of my aides invisibly wrapped themselves around these kids to let them know that they were not alone and no matter what these tests would not hurt them. Did I lie to them? No! I told them straight up that these tests are hard but we will do our best with all of the skills that we know. We do know a lot, just not everything! We are not quitters so we will strive for perfection! I also told them that these tests can absolutely not hurt them. they will not affect their grades. They will absolutely go on to the next grade as long as their classroom grades are passing.To ease their fear and pain, these are my tips. They are not for everybody because different schools and states have different policies. 

Mitt Aubin's Tips for High Stake Testing:

1) Prepare: Preparing for the state tests eases the students pain.  To practice for the ELA test we read a lot and add lots of new vocabulary words. We also learn who to use a graphic organizer to organize text into essays. We use a very basic top down web adapted from "Keys to Literacy"  It's simple and easy to follow. 

   For my students, I make it one step simpler. I tell them to write a topic sentence using words from the question itself. this goes in the place of the main topic as they have a blank graphic organizer. Next I ask them to find three details that support their topic sentence from the text. These go into the main idea spots. In the sub-topic area they write corresponding ideas that add depth to their supporting details. Then on the bottom of their web, I have added a rectangle for their conclusion sentence. I ask them to write their conclusion sentence like their topic sentence using synonyms or closely related word. My 6th-8th graders read on various levels from pre-primer to 5th grade. They struggle, but using this method, they have learned to write a decent essay. This builds their confidence in high stakes test where the reading contains many words that they are unable to decode. Given the words they do know, they are able to kind of get the gist of the passages.
   Math is difficult. I have students who can barely add and subtract who must take their grade level state test. I of course want them to do well, but more importantly I want them to feel confident during the test and leave it feeling like they did okay. Two out of three days of testing they can use a calculator. So this year we learned how to use calculators! Throughout the year we have "Big Group Days" where I teach and reinforce the "BIG Skills" that will be on their state tests. I don't want them to get to the test and think, "What is that"!!! So everything on the test they have seen and practiced! They often can do it in class with guidance but on test day they get confused and struggle. However, since they have seen it before, they think "maybe I can do this." I also have skill building days in my math class where each child has his or her own folder to work on IEP goals, and on areas of weakness. I also usually give them a page or two of the "Big Skills" as review. This system seems to work out well. 
     I'd love high scores on the state tests as do all teachers. I however believe that the kids come first and keeping them interested and confident during difficult testing times is what I value most for them.

2) Feed them!:  Who wants to take a test on an empty belly! There will be "No Hungry Kids" in my class during state testing! The classroom aide and I feed them. Mrs. Faryniarz, a former baker, made homemade banana bread on day one, melt in your mouth cinnamon rolls on day two, and a cheesy, vegetable filled omelet on day three! Each day they had a choice of milk, apple juice, orange juice, or water. Delicious! 

With full, happy, bellies, my students were ready to rock and roll the state tests!

3) Testing Treat Bags: Included in the "Testing Treat Bags: are spearmint candies, gum, and smarties! Did you know that spearmint is known to help people think? Spearmint has manganese in it which promotes healthy brain function and energy! Plus, the action of chewing gum gets blood pumping to the head! Lastly Smarties! Everyone knows that Smarties make you smarter, right?
4) Materials:  Make sure that everyone has all of the materials needed to be successful during the test, especially #2 pencils and a sturdy eraser! Highlighters are beneficial too! For the math test, when allowed a calculator, ruler, and protractor may also be necessary! 
Our classroom aide, Mrs. Faryniraz. Doesn't she look at ease on our testing day?

There is nothing like a good working calculator and smiling kids right before the test!

5)  Finally clear directions:  Mrs. Faryniarz and I use the "airline method"! As the pilot, I carefully read all of the directions to my silent, engaged students. My classroom aide, Mrs. Faryniarz acts as the airline attendant by demonstrating each step. Our airline method engages our "passengers" and eases their anxiety. When I say "begin" without hesitation, they begin.

"No cell phones or electronic devices"
"You may use...
     Final word...students come to school tense and worried on "testing day" this is not optimal for top performance. The airline method is simple: Be prepared to avoid disaster, treat the students (passengers) with respect and kindness, the same way we all want to be treated, and since everyone all ready knows that testing is serious business, keep it lighthearted! I promise your students will do their very best work! Good-luck! #Globalsped 

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