Test Prep…and Other Forms of Teaching

I am torn on this issue.

Part of me abhors the idea (abhors being a vocabulary work that many of my students have taken a liking to). I don’t really care if students pass the state tests…I care that they become good readers and writers. I believe if I can teach them that, then the test is secondary and they should be able to pass or at least make progress. This is especially true when it comes to writing. In middle school, students have no real purpose for writing other than the ones I create or find for them. No college entrance essays, no letters to their employers. Testing, being so artificial, seems like a poor purpose for writing…and the rule of make them be better writers and the test scores will follow seems to still hold true.

However, students have now grown up in the testing culture. They already feel that doing well in class and doing well on a test are different things. They know that the score they make one day on one test will count more towards the classes they are scheduled for in high school than all the A’s they make on their report card. They come into my room stressed over the test. In our state, the reading test changes from seventh to eighth when they have to answer short answer and extended response questions. Shouldn’t I give them some instruction on how to properly answer those types of questions?

They will also be asked to write on  a prompt (odds are a very boring prompt) for the state writing test and the scorers are only going to spend a minute or two looking at their essay. Some students do well in class, make progress in their portfolio, read increasingly difficult novels and more complex non-fiction texts, but struggle with the arbitrary piece of text the state picks since they have no background knowledge of and no interest it. For some more advanced students, the pressure alone is enough to make their score drop. I have one student this year who came to me on the first day of school already worried about the writing test that won’t be given until February. Surely some test prep would help these students? Some practice in cold reading or strict prompt writing? Shouldn’t we let them know what the state is looking for since we as teacher are clear about it when we score?

I ask this now because next week our district is conducting a practice writing test for most of the eighth graders in the district. This test is being given in response to a state directive. I am planning a week of looking at test writing as a genre. We will look at a prompt and at scored results. Student will create a rubric of what makes a 1,2 3, etc. Then we will look at  past essays and what they would have scored. Wednesday we will take the practice test and score them in class on Thursday.  More writing analysis than test prep, but it is still a lesson to help students be aware of what will be asked of them in February.

If I present testing as writing (and reading) for a purpose and one of the purposes we examine is for testing, is that still test prep?

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