Preparing Students for Standardized Testing All Year

Standardized testing is underway or beginning for many schools. Teachers, students, and administration are feeling immense pressure to prepare their students. When I was in the classroom, the pressure affected all of us year-round. The focus was on data and preparing students for testing from the first to the last day of school. I ended up asking to move to second grade due to the testing pressure in fourth and fifth grade.

I was shocked when I moved to second grade to see that the pressure, while not as extreme, was still there! Throughout my years in second grade I worked to prepare students to become better readers, which in turn will make them better test-takers, so hopefully, some of the pressure was minimized when they entered third grade. I realized the importance of three things:

1. Teaching students to use text evidence to support their answers.
2. Using high-interest texts.
3. Scaffolding instruction appropriately, but using complex text for readers of all levels.

1. Teaching students to use text evidence to support their answers.
Almost every teacher, no matter what elementary grade they teach, can attest to how hard it is to get their students to use text evidence to support their answer choices. This is not a skill that should be taught only in upper elementary when preparing for standardized tests.
This is something that you should start as young as preschool! When reading to young children for enjoyment, you should discuss stop to discuss what is happening. Ask young children why they think what they think by pointing to the pictures. I do this with my two-year-old by asking questions like, “How does the little girl in the story feel?” If she tells me she is sad, I ask her to point to the picture that shows me she is sad.

In first grade, students should be able to circle or underline places in the picture and/or text to support their answers to literal questions. By second grade, students can be trained to find not only explicit answers in the text, but evidence that supports implicit conclusions they draw. If this is done consistently throughout first and second grade, it should be automatic for upper elementary students.
Not to say, students won’t try to take the “lazy” way out and not go back into the text. As a teacher, it is important to constantly expect your students to support their answers and never take anything less. I always refused to accept a paper from a student that did not have their answer underlined. It soon became a habit for students to prove their answers. Of course, this also takes constant modeling on the teacher’s part.

You’re probably thinking, “How boring! I want reading to be fun for my students.” While teaching and expecting students to use text evidence can be daunting, it can certainly be made fun. I recommend, when using a printable passage, you let students use color. My students always had a pencil box of rainbow colored pencils, and they would underline their answers in corresponding colors. You’d be amazed how much more engaged students become when you add coloring. This also makes it super easy for you to check that they are using text evidence! During independent reading, I would ask my students to use sticky notes to jot down their thinking. They would then place their sticky notes in their journal and have them ready to discuss with me during conferences. I did not expect or require them to do this all the time though. That will take the joy out of reading. The ultimate goal, after all, is for students to be able to internalize their thinking. When we read a book, we don’t write down every question or thought we have. It just comes naturally to us.

Once this process becomes a habit for your class, you will see it really doesn’t take the “fun” out of reading. Students start to enjoy their reading more because they are analyzing text and thinking more deeply.

2. Using high-interest texts.
Of course, we want our students to love reading, so we need to use high-interest texts! Use books and articles on topics that will interest your students. Find nonfiction books on topics your kids are interested in. In my comprehension units, I try to include high interest scientific and historical topics kids will want to know more about. When selecting fiction, I often choose books and passages about kids that kids can relate to.

3. Scaffolding instruction appropriately but using complex text for readers of all levels.
Differentiation is super important. We all know that. We need kids to regularly have access to text on their reading level that they can enjoy and comprehend without getting frustrated. However, there is a time and place to have students practice reading and responding to grade level text even if it is too difficult for them. If we use appropriate modeling and plenty of guided practice, many of our kids below level can analyze grade-level texts. After all, they will be encountering these texts on standardized testing.

We don’t want them to feel overwhelmed and insecure when testing cones. I have found that by teaching even our low readers a set of clear steps to tackle grade-level text, they can often be successful. It was for this purpose that I created my standards base comprehension packets in the first place. High-interest passages also motivate our below level students.

With that being said, it is important to offer more guidance through reteaching and small groups before we set them off to work on above-level text independently. It is also important to note, if you have students who are significantly below level and have no chance of being successful with a higher-level text, you don’t want to set them up for complete failure. I always taught the inclusion class, with about one-third of my students being exceptional. Usually, I was able to get most of these students to have some success with grade-level text. I might modify some of the short response questions, or just focus on their successes with the questions they could do. However, my last year in the classroom I had three children who were barely reading on a Fountas and Pinnell level A. These children were not able to tackle grade-level text with any success, so I did give them alternate passages they could be successful with.

If you’re looking for resources to help make using text evidence a habit, try my reading comprehension packets for fiction or nonfiction. I have packets for most standards for first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade. They can be found in my TpT store here.

1 comment

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