Examine the Topic
High-stakes testing to measure proficiency in reading and writing has become a reality for students, beginning in grade 3. While this testing continues to be controversial, literacy experts and classroom teachers acknowledge the importance of preparing students to do well on these tests. Read the following statements by Professor Au and by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Think about how these statements reflect your literacy instruction and the ways in which you prepare your students to demonstrate their learning on your state tests.
We want to make sure that students know how to perform well on a test; how to display their knowledge when it comes to that big, important state test. So, the question is, how can we prepare students, but do it in a way that gives them something of lasting value? The most important contributor to high scores on a test is the rich content knowledge students already have. All the knowledge they have about literature, reading comprehension, reading in the content areas is going to help them do well on a reading test. Having a rich curriculum is the best way to prepare students to do well on a test.
You can involve students in specific activities that promote ongoing learning and help them perform better on tests. It is important to note that they are not merely exercises; rather, they are effective only to the extent that students encounter them repeatedly during their reading of a variety of texts. The goal is to help students understand the overall meaning of what is read and demonstrate that understanding.
- Involve children in reading and discussing a variety of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.
- Use a variety of graphic organizers to help students understand the structure of the text.
- Teach students to identify the genre and text structure in reading selections and to select a format for a written response (e.g., retell, summarize, compare/contrast).
- Engage students in thinking about the text and talking about it in read-aloud, literature study, guided reading, and independent reading.
- Attend to students' reading level. When students are beyond their appropriate level, they are not able to develop effective strategies.
- Provide numerous opportunities for rereading texts for different purposes.
- Include numerous opportunities for pairs or triads to discuss and evaluate oral and written responses.
- Consistently require students to provide evidence from the text to support their thinking.
- Use the language (vocabulary and phrases) that is frequently used in tests as part of instructions for oral and written response to reading.
- Teach students to distinguish between information stated directly in the text and information that is inferred.
- Provide students with highlighters and teach them how to use them as part of classroom instruction.
- Teach students how to highlight key words and phrases in questions, directions, and reading selections.
- Teach students to organize their thoughts in writing quickly (using phrases, lists, web diagrams) before writing their responses.
- Provide numerous opportunities for timed short writing and long written response to reading. Have students talk about and evaluate their responses.
- Teach students that when reading selections are preceded by a boxed headnote, the information in that headnote is essential. Show them how to read headnotes, and look at the examples carefully.
Adapted from Fountas, I. C., and G. S. Pinnell. Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6), 471-473. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001.
Now write your answers to the following questions:
- What are the skills required for successful performance on your state tests?
- What specific vocabulary do students need to know and use when taking these tests?
- How do you prepare your students to do well on these tests throughout the year and just before the testing?
- How do you integrate this preparation in your daily instruction?
- What challenges do you and your students face in this preparation?
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