8 Mistakes You May Be Making When Writing Tests

This morning I had a student come to me in tears before school started. She had checked her grades on the student portal on her phone while waiting in the morning car line, and she was devastated to discover that she had made an F on a test that she had really studied hard for, both in my resource room and at home. She was so upset and truly shocked.

Unfortunately, I was not shocked. Her Cued Speech transliterator was absent the day the student took the test, so her regular education teacher had her take the test to me so I could cue and read it aloud to her. This granted me a unique opportunity to see the test myself.

Yikes! There were several questions I had to read twice before even I understood what it was asking. Many questions were intentionally designed to be tricky, leading you to think it was looking for one answer when really that information was irrelevant to the actual intent of the question.

I understand that some teachers do this prepare students for college or standardized testing or, perhaps, even for convoluted situations that may occur in real life, but if the point of the assessment was to gauge the students’ current knowledge of the content on the test, then it fell far short of the goal. My student knew her stuff. We studied backwards and forwards together, and I made a Quizlet for her to practice at home. She even had her classmates and younger sister quiz her from the study guide several times, too. She not only memorized the study guide, but she really understood and could apply the information when prompted to. Before seeing the test, I had been confident she’d make an A.

As teachers, I think we need to very carefully analyze how we are writing our tests and why we are writing them that way. What is the goal of the assessment? Our goal should not be to trip up a previously confident student who had put in a ton of effort to learn the information. The goal should be to assess what they know and understand, and we need to make sure we are writing the tests accordingly.

Check out this blog post from Teach 4 the Heart about common mistakes teachers make when writing assessments that can alter the purpose of the assessment:8 Mistakes You May Be Making When Writing Tests. We don’t want students to memorize or guess, but we also don’t want to damage their motivation to continue studying by causing them to fail for reasons other than content understanding.

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Test Prep: Strategies That Worked For Us

what worked what didn't

I know we are now finished with the standardized test season. Everybody is probably ready to move on, and forget about it until next year. I would like to take just one post to reflect on what worked in my classroom, what helped my students be more successful, or at least less frustrated, on the tests.

What Worked:

  • Main Idea and Supporting Details Highlighting: Around February, I tried out a close read strategy for informational texts. I had students underline the main idea/topic sentence in red. They then highlighted the important supporting details in yellow. I saw amazing results in comprehension, ability to summarize and use of supporting evidence in short answer questions. I am definitely going to continue to use this strategy.
  • Schaffer Model: The Schaffer Model is a paragraph writing outline that teaches students how to include supporting information as well as their thinking in any kind of expository or persuasive writing. Use for assignments as short as a constructed response or as long as a senior thesis. Every paragraph begins with a topic sentences and ends with a concluding sentence. The middle of the paragraph should have at least 1 “chunk,” consisting of a concrete detail sentence (fact, statistic, quote, etc.) and at least 2 commentary sentences explaining the meaning and relevance of the concrete detail. Schaffer Model is a school-wide program where I teach, so we increase the number of chunks required by grade level… 6th must have 1 chunk per paragraph, 7th grade requires 2 chucks, and 8th grade uses 3 chunk paragraphs. This outline really helps my student stay on topic, use supporting evidence, and explain their reasoning. Learn more about Schaffer Model here.

What Did Not Work:

  • Grammar Interactive Notebook: This one I know was the result of how I used and taught these activities. I don’t think I was consistent enough, and we had students being pulled for related services during the time that we worked on these notebooks, so students sometimes missed explanations. The foldables and graphics didn’t seem to really help more than daily grammar mini-lessons or Apple Tree activities. I probably won’t use interactive notebooks for grammar next year (though I do intend to use them for social studies).
  • Science and Social Studies Daily Drills: Students were bored and just circled answers without trying to reference notes, books, or other resources to find an answer if they didn’t remember. It was mostly a waste of time. Any better suggestions for keeping science and social studies content fresh in students’ minds?

Have you tried any of these methods?

What were your results? Do you have any more suggestions?

Language and Standardized Testing

testing

We are now deep into the second swing of standardized testing. In my state, we use the MAP, PASS, ACT Aspire, and state End of Course assessments. We also have ACCESS for our English Language Learners.

This year has been full of changes as both ACCESS and ACT Aspire were brand new to us. ACCESS replaced ELDA, and ACT Aspire replaced the reading, writing, language and math subcategories of our PASS tests. Has it ever been an adjustment getting IEPs and everything in order in time! Especially since the ACT Aspire test was still making procedural changes up until 1 week before they required all documentation to be done (and 2 days AFTER our school required that data to be submitted!).

The change to ACT Aspire for all our ELA and math assessments led me to rethink how I prep my students for standardized tests. Do you do test prep at all or do you just build it into your regular content and instruction? Do any of you have good test prep strategies or lessons?

In the past, I have never done test prep as a specific lesson or focus. I always just built-in test taking strategies and content into my regular lessons, and then let students perform as they would. PASS is well above the level of students in self-contained classes, so I never drilled them or gave explicit test taking instruction. My goal was that they learn the content as best they can. Unfortunately, I saw students tripped up by the language of the questions year after year and mark wrong answers for content I know they knew the correct answer to.

This year, I have trained students how to write constructed response answers for math and ELA content that is above their level. I have given in to the test prep frenzy, but I’m worried that even with this direct instruction students will not know what to do with the new format. The language is just so far above where my self-contained students are.

How do you teach constructed response answers for math? How do you help students write constructed responses for texts you know they likely will not understand? Do you have any suggestions for prevention misunderstanding of the questions themselves?