Middle School Testing Large
Our Teachers: Beth Williams (7th Grade Math) & Brennan Hall (6th Grade Math)
The 2013-2014 school year marks the beginning of the state’s full implementation of the newly adopted Common Core State Standards. Alabama students, third through eighth grade, currently take the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT+), which evaluates students’ understanding of state content standards in reading and mathematics. Because more emphasis is being placed on these tests, standardized testing skills are increasingly more important to learn.
Collegiate athletes don’t wait until their junior year of high school to develop their athletic abilities. The same goes for test-taking skills. Fundamentals have to be taught early and developed over the years through practice.
Standardized tests play a huge role in students’ academic careers, which is why the state requires students to begin taking them as early as third grade.
We interviewed two middle school teachers to find out exactly what state testing entails, why it matters and how you can ensure your child reaches their testing potential. Time starts now!
What is state testing?
Beth Williams: State testing is comprehensive testing of material required according to our state’s curriculum for math and language arts. The students also take a standardized science test, though this doesn’t affect a school’s “rating.”
What are the standards?
Brennan Hall: The standards are what the state requires us to teach over the course of the year. An example of a standard for this year is to “demonstrate computational fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of decimals and fractions.”
When does it take place?
Beth: This year, our students are taking the tests in May, a few weeks before school ends. Up until now, testing has usually been after spring break in March or April. I am looking forward to the later date as it gives us more time to prepare the students.
How long does it take?
Brennan: It will take students about four days to complete all parts of the ARMT+ and about 2-2 ½ hours each day. We have testing in the morning and then run a shortened schedule in the afternoon where students go to all of their classes.
What types of questions are on the test?
Beth: Each test has a set time limit, though these vary by subject and object of the test. The number of questions varies as well. The format is multiple choice, short answer and open-ended response where there could be more than one correct answer, as long as students provide logic and explanation.
When does test prep begin?
Beth: We math teachers prepare our students from day one of the school year. While we don’t refer to the tests specifically with the students during our lessons, we develop our lessons in such a way as to expose students to the types of questions they’ll see. We want them to get used to how these questions will be asked so that it’s almost second nature.
How else do you prepare students?
Beth: During the year, we give students a formula sheet much like the one provided with the test. They keep it in their notebooks and are encouraged to use it whenever they want, which shows them see how helpful it can be and what information it holds. We also practice how to properly use a calculator and a ruler exactly like those provided for the test. Doing this well before testing takes the pressure off of figuring out how these tools work and when to use them.
Explain how you ensure students understand fundamental concepts.
Brennan: We ask open-ended questions and require students to show their work and explain their reasoning. Students work in groups on different assignments so that they can explain their reasoning and help each other understand different concepts. We try to make all lessons as interactive and engaging as possible so they will remember the concepts. We usually introduce concepts, allow individual practice time on homework and then work together on assignments to make sure they’ve grasped them.
How do you prepare in the weeks leading up to testing?
Beth: In the weeks immediately before the tests are given, we give the students practice tests. This is for several reasons: to refresh their memories on material taught early in the year; to get them used to taking the test (bubbling in, providing good short-answer and open-ended responses, etc.); and to give them test-taking strategies (eliminate unnecessary words, equations they can plug-in answers to find the correct one, eliminate illogical answer choices, etc.).
How are test results used by the state?
Beth: In the past, these tests were used to follow the school rating or goal guidelines set in the No Child Left Behind Act. In Alabama, the test scores were used to evaluate a school, possibly putting it on a watch list with the State Department of Education. In other states, the scores are used to evaluate teachers and employment.
How do teachers use the test results?
Beth: As a teacher, I look at the scores to find areas in which my lessons may need revamping. I don’t think of the scores as a direct reflection of my personal teaching; students’ scores can be affected by too many factors (not enough sleep, poor attitude, non-academic problems, outside factors, etc.) for them to accurately reflect my teaching effectiveness. I hope that the test-taking skills and strategies stick with the students to help them later down the road with the graduation exam and college-entrance exams.
How do results affect students’ academic careers?
Brennan: Students are learning how to take tests, which helps them as they progress in school with test-taking strategies. In elementary school, it helps students get used to taking tests and showing what they have learned. In middle school, it gets them ready for and shows what future exams will be like. Once they get to high school, it prepares students for the ACT/SAT.
What can be determined about individual students from test results?
Brennan: The tests are written in an open-ended way that makes students explain their thought process. The goal of all these tests is no longer to see if students can apply what they know, but to make sure they can problem solve and use higher-order thinking skills. If they do well on these tests throughout school, it is supposed to indicate that they are college-and career-ready when they graduate.
How Parents Can Help
What can parents do at home to help their kids succeed?
Beth: Make sure they get some sleep! Put extracurricular activities on hold, or at least don’t let them (or missing them) put extra pressure or stress on your child. For example, if their coach will be tougher on them if they leave practice early or don’t participate, then let them participate to avoid that stress. However, if it’s not an issue, let them stay home and rest.
What’s the best thing a parent can do to prepare their child?
Brennan: Encouraging your child to take school seriously from the beginning is so important. Keep a close eye on school work when they are in elementary school so they can be more independent and responsible in secondary school. It’s not as much about what you do the day of the test, but how you prepare them to take school seriously from the beginning.
What words of wisdom should parents offer their kids before testing?
Beth: Encourage your children to do their best. While not all of these tests directly affect their immediate future, they are part of their permanent record. Scores can give an impression to people who’ve never met your child. On the flipside of that, don’t pressure your child. If a child is worried or stressed, he or she is likely to not do as well.
A little testing “pick-me-up” from mom or dad.
Beth: Parents can get their kids a school-appropriate book or magazine for their child to read after testing. Students aren’t allowed to do anything but sit quietly while tests are out, but can read once tests have been taken up in their classroom.
Surprise your child with a new
favorite book or activity to kick off testing week. It not only shows that you care, but shows that state testing is worth caring about!