Preparing learners for the Common Core assessments can seem daunting at times, but with a plan and some preparation, you can feel confident about next-generation state testing. Check out these seven tips to help your students get ready and, ultimately, improve achievement!
1. Benchmark your learners
Benchmark assessments are a great way to take a “temperature check” of your students’ knowledge at the beginning of the school year. They can help you determine where you should begin in your instruction and which topic areas to focus on during class time. Benchmarks can also help you understand where your students’ proficiency levels are compared to the standards they will eventually be assessed against. You can use them to identify learners who are working at grade level, those who are more advanced, and those who may be in need of targeted instruction and intervention. By using benchmark data, you can make your instruction more efficient and have far less preparation to do when exam season arrives.
2. Focus on the “How”
It is both an advantage and challenge that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are abstract. In emphasizing deeper understanding and synthesis of information, the CCSS do not dictate how these expectations should be met or tell teachers how to teach. This gives teachers freedom to use methods and curriculum of their choosing, but it also means that it is even more important for teachers to think about their teaching strategies when preparing students for Common Core assessments. Try utilizing close-reading strategies or hands-on instruction models like flipped learning or project-based learning to support critical thinking and evidence-based argumentation skills. By making goals focused around specific instructional methods, it is easier for educators to effectively align classroom curriculum with the standards.
3. Practice to Ensure Mastery
Allowing students to independently practice the skills and concepts that they have learned during class time will help them retain the information, making it more engrained and much easier to recall, even in high-stress environments like testing. The biggest challenge in getting your students to practice is motivating them. To make sure that students are engaged, use multiple modalities of instruction, including video, audio, and physical movement, in different learning environments such as small-group or whole-class game-based practice.
4. Get Parent Buy-In
Parents can be strong motivators for your learners. When parents are engaged, students are much more likely to complete homework and be accountable for their learning. To achieve parent buy-in, it is key to keep parents in the know about what their children are working on and how they are progressing. Educate parents about the CCSS—what they include, how they differ from previous standards, and what your preparation program looks like. Setting up some standard communication points can help you ensure that parents are regularly informed and continue to be involved in their children’s education. Read this blog post for more classroom tips to increase parent involvement.
5. Think About Your Own Preparation and PD
The Common Core State Standards represent a significant pedagogical shift—which is just as much of a challenge for teachers as it is for students. This means that high-quality and ongoing professional development (PD) is absolutely key for teachers to be successful in preparing their students for Common Core assessments. Take full advantage of any PD services provided in your district, from workshops and instructional coaching, to maximizing your planning period. Talk about the challenges that you are facing in preparing students for Common Core assessments, leverage the experience and expertise of other educators, and celebrate successes together to build a positive culture.
6. Embrace Formative Assessment
In between quarterly or interim benchmark assessments, conducting regular formative assessments can be hugely helpful in monitoring student progress and determining instruction. Learning is rarely linear, and even the best laid (lesson) plans must be modified. Formative assessment helps you gauge your students’ needs through concrete data and then use that data to provide the most effective preparation possible. And, formative assessment doesn’t have to be complex and time-consuming—it could be as simple as completing an exit ticket activity with your students before they leave class. Check out this blog post to learn more about Formative Assessment in the Classroom.
7. Familiarize Students with Next-Generation Test Formats
Although your students have grown up surrounded by technology and devices, it does not necessarily mean that they are tech-savvy or prepared for the digital format of Common Core assessments. Preparing students for the environment that they will be tested in is nearly as important as preparing them for the content they will be tested on. Make sure that your students are familiar with the type of device that their assessments will be administered through, and give your students time to practice the different technology-enhanced item types (like those found in EducationCity and Study Island!) that they will see on next-generation assessment questions.
Interested in learning more about how Edmentum can partner with your school or district to provide engaging, research-based online solutions for standards mastery? Learn more about our Test Preparation & Benchmarking solutions here!