How many of us work our tails off to make sure our students have learned all of the math that they are going to encounter come standardized test time but still feel like our students are under-performing despite our best efforts? I feel this way, and if you do too you are not alone! I recently went to a training and found that many other educators were feeling the same way. It is such a struggle but there are some things we can be doing in our classroom for our students to help them get ready for the test.
Spiral review is important. We need to revisit and practice skills from middle school because the reality of it is that many of the assessed skills on standardized tests are rooted in the math skills our students learned in middle school. Students need to apply these skills to tackle more in-depth problems on the test but the ability to use those basic skills has to be there. I like to use bell ringers at the start of class to provide a quick review of previously learned skills.
Students need opportunities to problem solve, make connections, and apply their learning in class so that they can build their confidence in their ability to attempt and tackle tough problems on standardized tests. Many of the questions require the use of middle school skills (find the average) but also add an ability to problem solve (one of the values is missing) and think critically.
Practice. Students need the opportunity to learn how to pace themselves and to get comfortable with the types of questions they will encounter on the test. Having the students complete practice tests in smaller chunks regularly (for me it is 15 questions in 15 minutes) gives the students familiarity with the test and how to pace themselves so they can enter the testing environment a little more confident knowing what to expect. I tell them every time five minutes has passed during our practice time so that they can see how many problems they have completed and to help them pace themselves better, if needed.
Once you complete the practice, discuss the practice questions and answers that students struggled with. Have students share how they got the correct answer for questions that very few students got correct. The conversation that happens after the practice is just as beneficial as the practice problems themselves because students learn how other students approached and solved the problems. It is awesome hearing students share their unique but accurate approaches to solving these problems and it might just help another student next time they encounter a problem that uses a similar skill.
The last practice I did with my students showed both myself and my students that they were missing important details when they were reading the problems, for example, the answer needed to be feet and they chose the answer in inches. We learned that in “doing an easy problem quickly” students were reading too fast and missing important details that resulted in getting “quick” problems incorrect. This will be something that I continue to help my students with, paying attention to detail.
Teaching is tough and teaching all the standards is a challenge, and despite how we may feel about standardized testing it is a reality of our education system and what we do as educators and we need to prep our students for it the best that we can. I would love to hear what you do to help your students get ready for standardized testing!