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Four Steps to Design Your Own Test-Preparation Boot Camp

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 -- Stephanie Abbott

New state assessments, innovative types of questions, more rigorous content, OH MY! What’s a teacher to do? In a word, FOCUS!

For millions of American students and their teachers, spring testing season in 2015 brings a level of challenge arguably not seen since state assessments began. In a recent blog posting, Dave Adams, Edmentum’s chief academic officer, described how to prepare students for the new technology being used in the next-generation assessments.

It’s not surprising that teachers and principals wonder how best to use the time leading up to tests effectively. Let’s acknowledge that an entire year’s worth of content cannot be taught in six to eight weeks. Solid instruction takes planning and time for students to process and absorb the information. However, with a focused approach, the weeks leading up to your state test can be structured to maximize preparation efforts. Here are four steps for implementing a Test Prep Boot Camp.

1.       What to review? Set priorities.

There are dozens of concepts and skills in the eligible content as defined by national and state standards. We also know that all standards are not equal. Most grade levels will concentrate on a specific category or skill, setting the stage for learning new material in subsequent years. So, it makes sense for the review to focus on skills that fall into the primary category of subject matter that the majority of test questions will be built around.

Once you have prioritized which material to review, use reliable data sources to determine what specific skills need attention. It is also helpful to view multiple levels of data to look for patterns within the district, grade, and class, as well as among individual students and groups of students. Administrators can see trends across the district or within a school. Teachers will be able to set priorities with their class(es) or for individual students.

Finally, narrow your list to one skill/concept per week, per subject. It’s more important to review information at a manageable pace than to overwhelm students by trying to cover everything at once.

2.       How to structure reviewing? Create a plan.

First, create an instructional plan to fill knowledge gaps and review grade-level content. You may have to give a diagnostic quiz to clarify the lack of understanding. Is the low performance due to a complete lack of understanding or merely not knowing the vocabulary? Once you determine the situation, review the material. Practice will not be constructive unless students understand the content.

Next, provide multiple chances for practice. All practice should emulate the state test. This means giving your students frequent opportunities to get comfortable for the testing environment they will experience. If they will take the test online, then practice should be digital so that students develop the keyboarding skills they will use. Many state tests will make use of new technology-enhanced item types that better assess the depth of students’ knowledge than traditional multiple-choice questions. Make sure your students are familiar with these item types and model good test-taking habits. New question types come with their own set of directions. Now, more than ever, students need to read the whole question, the entire passage, and all of the answer choices to know what is expected of them.

3.       Are students improving? Track progress.

You will want to track student progress to validate the effectiveness of review and practice. Leverage your data from online test preparation and formative-assessment programs to understand how students are progressing. Taking the time to reflect from week to week and make note of what worked and what didn’t may help you refine your approach for the following weeks and build the foundation for an even stronger test-preparation program next year.

4.       What will motivate students? Provide incentives.

A reward system can be a great strategy to demonstrate to students the importance of review in the weeks leading up to testing, motivating them to work hard. Base your system upon some level of improvement, and set specific goals for students to meet. Acknowledge success frequently. Make parents aware of your review strategy and reward system, and let them know when their child reaches a goal. The more positive reinforcement each student receives, the better. Furthermore, a dose of healthy competition, some classroom fun, and a pizza party (or any other kind of class celebration) are always effective incentives.

What to learn more about how Edmentum can partner with your school or district to provide effective test-preparation strategies? Check out this resource on how to track standards mastery with Edmentum Sensei for Study Island