Friday, April 9, 2010

Test Prep

This probably isn't the most pedagogically sound thing I do, but it works.  We usually carve out a couple of weeks for test prep and I have a bunch of practice problems for my kids to do.  At this point, I usually go from teacher to coach.  By that I mean, we are simply trying to prepare these kids for what they are mentally going to have to deal with when they have that test in front of them.  I put a clock on them to add a little extra pressure because they tend to stress themselves out anyway.  I guess I figure they either need to learn to take the stress out of their tasks or they need to learn to work through it. 

I don't spend much time talking about the importance (or lack thereof) of "The Test" during the first semester, but whether we like it or not, these kids are going to have to deal with tests in some way-shape-or-form for quite some time.  I can downplay its importance all I want, but my kids (and their parents) have bought into THE STATE TEST.

Every one of us has a breaking point.  We all have a part of us that eventually says, "I don't give a crap how the rest of this goes, I just wanna be done."  And I spend some time talking to my students about this.  On a long test--whether it's the SAT/ACT/GRE/MSAT/LMNOP or just a semester final, a student reaches a saturation point.  For some it is at about the 50th question or so; for others, it's right after the test starts. 

I figure my job is to help them take those thoughts captive, recognize where their threshold lies and encourage them to push through it.

We just finished today.  I can see it in their eyes.  It's that I-really-get-this-stuff-now-but-I'm-ready-to-do-just-about-anything-but-this look.

And I'm kinda ready to do something else with them too.


Jason Buell said...

We test the second week of May so I'm starting test prep pretty soon too.

My trap is that I pretty much get a free pass to do what I want because the science dept. test scores are good. So I'm constantly balancing "doing what I think is best" vs. "doing what I think will keep my test scores up." They're not mutually exclusive but I can't say I'm entirely pleased with taking a few weeks out of the year to teach kids how to cross off obviously wrong answers.

Raymond Johnson said...

This is what I tried with my approach:

I'd tell the kids early in the year that 1) they'd be taking their state test in the spring, 2) there's math on the test and we're going to learn math every day, 3) they should let me worry about the test and just learn the math the best they can, and 4) I will make an effort to talk about the test as little as possible.

I know there's research that says stopping the established flow of curriculum to do test-specific practice and review actually results in an overall decrease in student test scores. (I apologize for not having read that research myself, or having a link to it.) I know in some schools test-prep is mandatory, and if you don't do it you'll be accused of not doing your job. It can be a tricky balance, and student needs vary, but I wish you and your students the best of luck.

David Cox said...

I'm in the exact same spot. Keeping my scores up allows me to maintain some autonomy. I'm working towards making my "test prep" the basic skills of the class.

Sounds like we have similar approaches. The TEST is in no way my focus. I'd be interested in the research, you refer to since I have found my approach to be very effective with my students. There are two things I have been tracking: 1) Test scores and 2) Success in subsequent math courses at the high school level.
My students have had an average increase of 35 points each year and they have done very well in their high school courses--many as freshmen in Alg 2 and sophomores in precalc.

I still believe that I can do better by them, though.