Today’s post is contributed by Linda Hatton, Chalkable Professional Learning Services SpecialistVeteran educators remember the Three Rs of Education all too well: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. No matter what their content area was or is, those three subjects blended into their instruction automatically. Nobody told them what to do or why it was necessary. It was obvious and simple because:
- The more students read (sans jargon and texting acronyms), the better they comprehended the meaning of textbook content in any subject area, and demonstrated that comprehension to teachers and classmates. Answering questions that proved proficiency in what is commonly referred to as HOTS, or higher order thinking skills, indicated students could think deeply for themselves without encouragement.
- The more students read, the more their writing improved because of the standard rules of grammar and usage lined in the trenches of their brains. What they read over and over provided a large parcel of instruction without a teacher’s help. If they wrote something incorrectly in a short answer question or even an essay, they simply “heard” the error when they proofed it. While they may not have been able to cite the exact rule verbatim that had been broken, they could recognize that something didn’t sound right.
- The more students read and then wrote about a content area, the more their vocabularies increased and enabled them to write more concisely and clearly in their written evaluations. They learned to connect meanings of words because their skill in the study of vocabulary etymology (the use of prefixes, suffixes, and roots) increased exponentially!
- The more students read, comprehended in-depth subjects, and dazzled teachers with their writing skills, the better they performed in all content areas. Then, they were ready to enter adulthood through college or the workforce because literacy actually meant something to employers. Most employers have re-adopted those requirements today!
Students’ learning and teachers’ instruction are often defined by assessment scores and high-stakes testing using multitudes of standardized tests with similarities and differences. But in just one internet search for standardized testing buzzwords you can learn how diverse assessments can be, and will find a vast array of standardized tests used in all the United States. For example, Terra Nova is frequently used by the New York City Department of Education, and ACT Aspire is mostly used by the Alabama Department of Education. These examples are just two of many that have something very important in common. They are closely connected to the Common Core Standards, often illustrated as the College and Career Ready courses of study thought to be the ideal outcomes of high school graduates.
The Common Core Standards is the foundational ammunition for an ongoing battle among educators and politicians. It has to do with the age-old argument, “Why are we not doing anything but teaching a test?!” Most people are unable to take sides because the states that adopted Common Core and use tests like Aspire, are actually testing what is taught by requirement. And the states that adopted the Common Core Standards and utilize other standardized tests aligned to those standards are also testing what is taught. Expectations are also significantly high due to the rigor of the standards and the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) vocabulary that supports the high expectations of those same standards.
There is no time for negativity because students are graduating at this very moment across the country, and some are neither adequately prepared for a vastly competitive workforce, nor the demands and expectations of colleges, universities, career training, vocational training, or even junior colleges. They remain without the ability to be careful readers and proficient writers.
All of this leads to facing the truth about how to proceed with appropriate instruction, especially as demands for reading and writing increase. Since all states have course of study standards, the importance of student strength in reading and writing comprehension remain significant because they are the building blocks to proficiency in every subject and grade taught. Therefore, no matter which way the facts spoke about teaching to the test, many tests do assess as indicated, while others simply point to the absolute necessity for proficiency in literacy in the United States.
And whether or not the test used in each state includes constructed response items is irrelevant. All students should excel in writing, and the same plan for higher scores on the constructed response test items should work seamlessly for all students.
The key is to provide professional development training for those who work so hard to protect the future, all the heroes of education, also known as teachers. An excellent trainer for professional learning provides a simple, nuts ‘n’ bolts plan. The following list includes just a partial explanation of what should be expected in training:
- Instruction on constructed response.
- DOK levels for standards will be determined, and the study of DOK vocabulary will be included.
- Since formative and summative (benchmark) tests are strongly recommended by the U.S. Department of Education, DOK levels and identification of the standards likely to be tested through constructed response should be included in district pacing guides.
- Strategies for consistent use by students.
- Modeling sample response items will be carefully reviewed and modeled in training since constructed response items are bound by rules (some even formatting) and guidelines. Timed modeling and student practice should be included to simulate the actual experience.
- Strategies for constructed response items will be both broad and precise depending on the subject areas of the teachers. Participants should study standards to select heavy hitters that will be assessed in those questions for reading and/or mathematics.
- Certain strategies should overlap all subject areas. For example, identification of central ideas, point of view, drawing conclusions, paraphrasing, comparing/contrasting of textual content, drawing inferences, and demonstrating knowledge of fact vs. opinion.
- Connections should be made between the benefits of conquering constructed response questions on Aspire, AP Exams, and the ACT.
- Connections should also be made to extra doses of practice and instruction of constructed response questions with other learning programs such as Project-Based Learning (PBL).
Cultivating confidence for students in test-taking is an element in the formula for success. While almost all surprises are good and appreciated, no surprise could be any worse than one reflected on the face of a student who opens a test booklet or turns on a computer to see nothing that was expected. The smile on a student’s face that says, “No surprises,” lights the way back to the future where all is well!