Friday, April 4, 2008

Follow-up on Testing Lessons

Memories of My Test Prep

# 1
When I was in high school, South Carolina was desperately trying to improve its SAT scores. (And something must have worked because I remember a headline proclaiming that we had moved up, "We're 49!") One of their strategies was to have an annual SAT competition. 

Each school would have a team that would compete against the same schools you played sports against.  Three rounds of competition. 
Round One (district): Everyone on all teams takes a mock SAT test. 
Round Two (regionals): The top teams from each district take another mock SAT test. 
Round Three (state): The top teams from each region take another mock SAT test. And a state champion is declared!

Yeah, I was one of the nerds on the team. For three years. We would have practice before school, going over strategies and taking practice tests. It may have helped me some, but really it was something I did because I was invited.

I attended two high schools. The first one had a policy requiring that every class begin with a  standardized test question or vocabulary tests. I don't remember them being related to the subject at all. They got on my nerves then, which is probably why I haven't used anything like them this year.

Bringing us up to date
I wasn't planning on doing formal test prep this year. (This goes back to my frustration of not having a released test; though,  based on what I saw the seniors take, it's just as well that I didn't.) But then testing was scheduled for the first full week after two short weeks. There wasn't enough time to move into the next unit, so testing strategies it was.

The way the four-day week played out.
Tuesday was flop day

Wednesday went a little bit better. I gave a 10-minute multiple choice test and tried talking about general time-saving tips. Most students seemed to be at least somewhat interested in the ideas we went over. (Then I found out this week that the tests we're taking aren't timed. Oh. At least I was lazy and just stole my ideas from the College Board?) 

Thursday, I took on H.'s idea of having students generate possible choices. I took questions from released multiple choice tests from elsewhere that related to topics we have done in class. Each section of Algebra had 8 questions to come up with answers. We spent the end of class reviewing the problems and choosing which answers to use. I put together a quiz that night using their answers.

Friday I gave them the quiz. I allowed them to refer to their worksheet from the day before. Students were to choose the correct answer (1 point each) and to explain what mistake the other answers made (1 point each). I tried to make it a competition between classes, so that the class with the highest average would be allowed to watch a movie during the two class periods of testing week.

One class really got into it. One class really did nothing. I think it has more to do with my connection with the student leaders in each room than the lessons themselves--the troublesome class has been so since one student transfered in.

Plans for next year
If I were doing another mini-test-prep-unit next year, I'd start off the week with a quiz. I'd want to time it where there wouldn't be quite enough time (exactly one minute per question, no bumper time). I would include a few questions just a half-step beyond what we've done. Hopefully this would help students get the message that timing is important and good guessing strategies are important.

I'm not sure whether I'd review guessing strategies and then have students generate questions or the other way around. I do like ending the week with the competition.

I almost hope that the scheduling doesn't work out for this unit (unless I find some amazing ideas in the meantime). Maybe it was just overdone for me when I was in high school, but if SAT team competition wasn't exciting...well then, testing is not exciting.

The Idea that is Brewing
I'm beginning to love the "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" theme Jackie suggested. Students complain all the time, "We've seen this before," or, "My little sister could do this." They have. I hope she could. 


They did not really learn it. Seniors had to refer to the multiplication table on my wall during testing. The usual suspects are problematic. Fractions. Decimals. Negative numbers. Order of operations. Division. Addition. Subtraction. Basically anything you should have learned in elementary and middle school math. Students think they know it, resist learning it, and continue being wrong. 

My current thought is to use a released test (probably California, New York, or Texas) from an elementary grade level as a diagnostic at the beginning of the year. Give it back to students as a basis for where they are.

Then to have a powerpoint file of questions from different strands and grade levels. Throughout the year, when there's the extra time that needs to be filled, whip out the file. Take a question. Maybe say what percentage of the class is smarter than a 5th grader. I'd need some sort of end of year test to see where they are. Again, pulling from released questions could make this manageable. I think the challenge may be to keep moving with the high school math and not just try to create the missing pieces. At least that won't be a new challenge. 


Jackie said...

Hmm, if you're looking for a test with nicely detailed standards, you might try the ACT. The College Readiness Standards for Mathematics are easy to follow. Also there are tons of released test materials. I happen to be more familiar than I'd like with this.

Sarah Cannon said...

Jackie, thanks for the ACT suggestion. I've been using them in part because, as you say, there's so much available.

A bit of clarification on my rant.

Every student took two different tests last week. One was the internal test that I like less and less. That's the test students have memorized. A test that does not correlate with anything I've seen.

The other I'm less sure about. Juniors take it for the state. I'm unclear whether the state requires the rest of the school is to take it; and, if so, is it because we haven't met AYP.

On the second test, at least, different grades take different versions. (Though apparently we only get new test books for the junior class on an annual basis.)

I was administering to seniors. Their single math section was 30 questions long. Somehow it's supposed to cover all of high school math. (For comparison, they had a section for reading vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, and language. Not that it was any better aligned.)

Two-thirds of the test was on material that I haven't taught to any of my four subjects. There were another 5 questions that a student who was trying could figure out based on what I've done in class.

So a student who knew all the material from all of my classes this year could get half the questions. Granted half of the ideas I've taught this year are below level enough that I think it's reasonable they didn't show up on the test. But if this is the test that we're judging schools on, I should have a better sense that statistics will be big compared to, say, number sense. I feel like I am teaching standards that are measured by some of the tests out there, they just aren't measured by the tests my students are taking. That's the frustrating part.

I like Slate's quip this week Don't stop all testing, stop stupid testing.

Anonymous said...

You can also try It really helped me on my SAT test.

Jackie said...

"I feel like I am teaching standards that are measured by some of the tests out there, they just aren't measured by the tests my students are taking. That's the frustrating part."

Yep. Also, do you know how the tests are scored? Are they normed? Does getting half correct meet standards?

(Sorry for the delay in responding. I just got around to subscribing to comments. Oops)

Sarah Cannon said...

Currently no clue on scoring. I think the theme is that I'm being told the tests are important, but not told much else about them.

The state does have some work sessions that teachers can attend to norm the questions. I'm traveling this summer, so won't be able to attend most of them, but applied for one in September. Hopefully that will give me more confidence next year.