The Testing Genre

Starting next week, my third grade students will be exposed to a new genre of text: The Standardized Test genre. For the next two weeks, my students will spend 55 minutes of their mornings working through their ISAT books. Although this is the last year the ISATs will be used, schools are still *required to administer the tests. I placed a star next to the word required because there has been a great deal of discussion and controversy amongst the parents, teaching, and school board members in the Chicago Public Schools about why these tests are being implemented.

While I am not here to present a strong opinion one way or the other, I will state the facts: as I understand them:

  • Fact: ISAT scores will still be used to determine students’ Annual Yearly Progress (AYP).
  • Fact: The ISAT scores will be used to evaluate a school’s overall rating and standing.
  • Fact: Federal educational funding is linked to a school’s overall rating.
  • Fact: Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the percentage of schools meeting or exceeding AYP is 100%. The safe harbor percentage is 92%.
  • Fact: Student promotion is not linked to ISAT test results. The NWEA’s MAP test data determines a student’s eligibility for promotion.
  • Fact: The ISATs will be given to all 3rd through 8th grade students at Andrew Jackson Language Academy starting next week.

Taking all of these facts into consideration, most notably the last, we have been preparing our students for this very new experience. Since I arrived in room 206 in early January, we have been tackling ISAT-orientated content early and often. Almost every week, sometimes more than once depending on the weekly schedule, my cooperating teacher and I have been teaching ISAP prep lessons.

Based on these weeks worth of lessons and my personal observations, here is a list of unique text features we have touched on:

  1. Familiarity with test packets: What will they look like? Where do my answers go?
  2. Turning pages: When I flip the page, where does the content pick up again?
  3. Familiarity with the testing cues: When to “go on” and when to “stop.”
  4. Locating the questions: Where do they appear on the multiple choice portion? The extended response portion? Is the math section structured differently than the reading?
  5. Generating a claim, opinion, or position: What should my writing “voice” be?
  6. Finding evidence in the text: Using the question to guide my examination and analysis of the text. How much evidence should I pull out of the text?
  7. Structuring a written extended response: How many paragraphs should I write? How long should my paragraphs be?
  8. Indenting paragraphs: Where and when should I indent?
  9. Transition words: What words can I use to transition between paragraphs?
  10. Testing stamina: How long are these tests going to last? Can I get up to get a drink of water? to go to the bathroom? Can I ask you (The teacher) questions?

While some of these points may seem like common sense, you have to remember that this is the first time my students have ever taken a lengthy standardized test. For some of my students, they are still transitioning between learning to read and reading to learn. Regardless of their proficiency thus far, they will all take the same test. We have to prepare them for success.

Finally, it is also important to remember that all of these aspects are entirely unique to the Standardized Test genre. Engaging with a standardized test requires a specific skills and a unique mindset. Without the proper scaffolding and presentation of test-taking strategies, students will be inadequately prepared for these tests. And regardless of your personal feelings towards standardized tests, (mine are well documented in previous blog posts), the reality is this: When my 32 students engage with the ISATs next week, they will be novice test takers. By the time they graduate high school they will have taken so many standardized tests that they will be fluent and master test takers.


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