This post originally appeared on the blog Two Boys and A Dad.
Do you believe your students are ready for the upcoming round of state standardized testing with either the SBAC or PARCC (or some variation of them)? All the Common Core State Standards have not been taught, but by the end of April my students will be prepared to tackle the California version of the Smarter Balance Assessment. In the past, I’ve given some tips and suggestions for getting ready for these assessments. Since this will be my fourth year administering the SBAC to my students, I thought I’d update those tips and give some new suggestions!
This past year, my grade level at my school doubled the number of proficient students from the previous years in both ELA and Math. We attribute this to the fact that we were more strategic in preparing the students to take an online assessment. How do we prepare our students? By understanding the nuances of taking an online standardized test so that students adapt. In this post, I hope to give you tips, suggestions, and ideas that you can implement right now before the testing window opens up! Be sure to click on the links to previous blog posts I reference as well as other website links!
Let’s Talk Comfort Level
As a 1:1 classroom, my students are very comfortable with using the technology to work on assignments, projects, and even to take an assessment. Why? Because we’ve been using the Chromebooks since the first month of school! To get students very comfortable with the technology, they need to be using it daily until the testing window begins. They need as much practice as possible so they can adapt to reading text on a screen rather than in a book or on a paper. On-screen reading can tire eyes more quickly than if it were in a book.
Think about peripheral technology like trackpads, mice, and earbuds or headphones. Using a mouse is very different than using a trackpad. Most students take a while to learn to use a mouse. A mouse also needs more room to move around and may need a pad. If students use a trackpad, stick with that and don’t use the mice. Because many trackpads are configured as one and two button mice, teach them to properly use a trackpad. Use earbuds because they are preferable to headphones. Headphones get the students sweaty and hurt their outer ears if left on too long. If audio is not involved, train the students to take earbuds out or headphones off.
Since the beginning of school, my students have been using Google Slides for many projects that I have created as Interactive Digital Notebooks, as well as, practicing math skills in Google Slides with movable objects that represent virtual math manipulatives.
Let’s Talk Ergonomics
As teachers, it’s not like we can order the best, most comfortable chairs for our classroom. We make do with whatever furniture is given to us. Most of the time it’s a hard plastic chair or maybe even an old wooden chair. Sitting on one of those for at least an hour can make one stiff and tired. It is important to take frequent stretch breaks when feeling tired or stiff.
During testing, allow students to stand up and quietly stretch behind their chair without bothering anyone around. Model this, practice it and enforce it. Students can learn to monitor themselves for tiredness. I would also recommend every 30 minutes of testing, the entire group stand up and take a brain break for 5 minutes. The SBAC allows for 20 minutes of inactivity before a student gets logged off. It saves their work but they will NOT be able to go back to previous questions. Keep all breaks to less than 20 minutes.
Students should adjust screen brightness with the brightness controls. Everyone has a different tolerance for brightness so they should adjust it to their comfort level.
By the way, yes students do need to learn to keyboard. But I have concluded after many, many years of trying to teach third graders keyboarding skills, it’s a lot of effort for little payoff. Eight and nine-year-olds hands can barely reach the keys when they place their hands on the home keys. They do not have sufficient coordination to look away from the keys as they type. The California version of the SBAC is untimed. Let them hunt and peck for now, and eventually, they will learn the keyboard to become real typists.
However, do teach them the keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, etc.! Here’s a FREEBIE you can use with your students to remind them of the keyboard shortcuts.
Let’s Talk Test Format
With the advent of online testing, new ways of asking questions in unfamiliar formats can throw students off completely. Usually, on paper and pencil tests, students have questions that are either multiple choice, true or false, fill in blanks, matching, or short or long written responses. An online test presents questions in sometimes difficult or confusing ways such as, drop down menus, draggable objects on the screen, and tools for math symbols.
We also want students to understand that test-taking strategies that they used on paper and pencil tests can transfer to online tests. On paper, students can use the process of elimination to cross out incorrect answers on a multiple choice question. On a computer, they would use the strike-through tool to cross out incorrect answers. The process of elimination is a crossover strategy!
Drop-down menus for choosing an answer can sometimes be confusing to students. Now, they’ve probably encountered these types of menus before, but I’ve noticed something rather curious. In a drop down menu, not all items appear sometimes. The user must scroll within the drop down menu to see more choices. Students don’t notice this and choose answers from what is only displayed! Teach students to notice if the menu has a scroll feature.
Printed tests present the text passage followed by the questions. An online test presents the students with a split screen. Teach students how to adjust the split screen to see the entire text or to focus on the questions. If you want to practice working with split screens, there are some nifty add-on extensions for Chrome. One is Split Screen, but it doesn’t always work with every page. I believe a better one is Tab Resize which essentially lets you have two or more tabs open simultaneously next to each other as separate screens.
It is not technically a split screen, but it has the same effect. For example, I can upload a PDF with a passage to Google Classroom. On one screen, the students can open the PDF with Kami so they can highlight and annotate. On the other screen, students can open a Google Form that I have prepared with questions regarding the passage.
With Google Forms, I can simulate part of the test format with drop down menus, check boxes for multiple choice questions with more than one response, fill in tables or even short responses. In fact, my grade level is now going to start giving more and more of our classroom assessments using Google Forms, Google Slides or web based exams such as on Edulastic.com. With the assessment window now just 2 months away, now is the time to begin switching to using online assessment instruments, which we are doing.
Let’s Talk Note-taking
Students will deal with fiction or non-fiction text passages presented on screen for them to read. Students can use test tools like the highlighter to highlight parts to answer questions. On the SBAC, there is also a NOTEPAD tool for students to take notes on questions.
But, they will also have to learn to take notes from audio or video sources as well! A student might have to listen to an audio presentation and use it to answer a multitude of questions. If it were a text passage, it would be easier for the student to go back to the text and find answers.
But with an audio or video passage, that task becomes much harder. Their first instinct is to just listen to the audio like was music on the radio or watch a video as if they were watching TV at home. Instead, you have to teach them to recognize an audio or video source as just another passage that must be used to answer questions. But first, students need to know how to use the controls to play, advance, rewind and stop audio or video. Teach them to use the time index as well so they can reference sections if they need to go back and hear something over again.
Since the beginning of school, my students have used video as a learning tool. I usually embed links to videos in the Interactive Digital Notebook. I’ve taught my students how to take video notes so that they can use the notes to answer questions or compose a paragraph to summarize the video. My school also subscribes to the Scholastic News and with the digital version; there are related videos that you can use to practice this skill. As an option, Scholastic News reads aloud the text. I use that too, to simulate an audio passage for them to take notes.
Another tool which is an excellent way to have students practice with video or audio is Edpuzzle.com. I recently discovered this site and even blogged about it HERE recently. Essentially, pick a video and add questions for students to answer at specified points along the video! Very easy to set up and use.
Let’s Talk About Organizing Thoughts
Reading is understanding or comprehending. Our mind wants to make sense of what we read and organize it in a way that helps us understand and remember. I teach my students to make very simple graphic organizers that they can use to answer questions about a text or to use as a prewriting tool for writing tasks.
For writing a narrative, simple boxes with arrows to show sequence is the way to go. The first box is used as the first paragraph to introduce the setting, characters, and problem. The next three boxes are for three key events that occurred because the character acted in a certain way (character traits). This becomes the second paragraph. The last box is the resolution or ending of the story and is the last paragraph.
For writing an informative piece, I teach my students to use the house metaphor to state your main idea/topic sentence as the roof and pillars that show supporting details while the floor is the concluding sentence.
For an opinion, the students just remember the acronym OREO. O is for stating your opinion on the topic. R is a reason that supports your opinion. E is for evidence to illustrate or explain your reason. Students must give at least three reasons with supporting evidence. Finally, the last O is for restating your opinion. I actually tried this strategy with an online organizer. You can see it here!
For short constructed responses, my students have learned and been using the RACE strategy since the beginning of the school year. R is for restating the question. A is for answering the question by making an inference or drawing a conclusion. C is for citing evidence from the passage, video or audio that supports your answer. E is for further explaining or giving an example of the evidence. By following this strategy, students can give well developed constructed responses. If you look at the SBAC Scoring Guide, you will see that this strategy does help students with getting a better score.
Let’s Talk Motivation and Test Submission
In my past experiences with administering the SBAC, it has usually taken two days for the ELA test, two days for the ELA Performance Task, two days for the Math test and two days for the Math Performance Task. This is working about one and a half hours a day on each part. These are just averages. Some kids will need more time. So how do we keep them motivated to do their best?
Create a cheer! Display motivating posters around your school! Send a ClassDojo message to parents to encourage their children to do their best each day of testing! Offer a class reward of free play during the day for great effort and concentration! Give high fives! Hand out Brag Tags after a testing session to reward effort and concentration! Every class is different so you will have to find what is motivating to your students.
On the SBAC, before a child can submit a test, they are asked to review any flagged questions as well as ALL the questions before submitting. If they have paused the test along the way, they will not be able to review the previous session questions. It can be overwhelming and discouraging to have to review all answers AGAIN, after concentrating so hard taking the test. So I suggest we train our students to take a break before reviewing. Then have them only review a few at a time, take another break and continue. Now that can vary depending on the student. Some can handle reviewing all of them, while others may need encouragement to not just blow it off!
Online standardized testing is becoming the norm. I hope I have given you ideas and suggestions you can use to help your students do well with this new testing format.
Claudio Enriquez is a single dad of two boys ages nine and twelve. Growing up in Southern California, he also has been teaching for 30 years, mostly in third grade. He has served as a mentor teacher, bilingual resource specialist, literacy coach, and master teacher to student teachers. His store, Two Boys and a Dad Productions, is geared to the elementary teacher who needs classroom tested resources for the common core standards. As a 1:1 classroom, you’ll also find digital resources for Google. Follow him on his blog to read about his teaching adventures. Visit his TpT store Two Boys and a Dad Productions to see the latest digital and printable resources! For great ideas, follow him on Pinterest. And to see pictures of his classroom, follow him on Instagram.