Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Testing TIme

(I'm taking a brief break from the challenge to delve into nebulous areas of thought.)
                Yesterday at a staff meeting I was reminded of ACT scores and future test dates. I must confess: this year I'm doing overt ACT preparation with my students. My state requires and pays for all juniors to take the ACT in the spring and the students at my school have tremendously underperformed. Honestly, initially,  I felt kind of like a sellout, like I’ve knuckled under the pressure and have begun teaching to the test. However, in my defense, I do have several reasons why I’m doing a daily ACT review.
                One thing I’ve discovered teaching at-risk and nontraditional students is that most lack self-confidence. I know, I know, what teen isn’t filled with angst and self-doubts during these turbulent years? I realize that. However, take that angst times 10 and that is how most of my students feel when faced with standardized testing. By exposing them to test questions, I think I can assuage some of those fears by exploring the unknown with them. I liken what I’m doing to showing a child there’s no need to be afraid of the dark. There are no monsters on the ACT exam. Just questions that they can answer.
photo courtesy of Fort Worth Squatch
                Another reason for the review is to teach them how to think logically through questions. How to reduce the viable answers, what key words to look for, how to analyze a passage—these are all things I go over and over. I think out loud so students can hear my reasoning process. Then I invite them to join me in answering a question. Finally, they step out and do one on their own. All the while, they know the environment is safe in my room. They can vocally fail without snickers or snide comments. They gain confidence in seeing themselves arrive at the correct answer.
                Finally I’m reviewing the ACT with my students because I want them to have strategies in how to take the test. How to manage their time, how to look for key words, and how to approach the writing portion of the test? We review questions, look at sample papers and analyze those papers, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of them. Then we write. Students, again, flail a bit here, saying they can’t do it, it’s too hard. Once I’ve calmed them down and reduced the number of scared deer-in-the-headlights looks, we can start writing. In this process they gain confidence and start to believe in themselves. That’s half the battle in taking standardized tests.
                My hope is that my students won’t grow as frustrated as quickly, just answering randomly,  when they’re taking the test.  My hope is that they will realize they are just as capable as their counterparts in the traditional high schools in town. My hope is that they will recognize their abilities and start to believe in themselves. So for all the reasons not to “teach to the test,” I’m doing so this year. My hope? That it makes all the difference to them, giving them a confidence not just in taking tests but in their whole self-image.
                Life is short. Tests aren’t the end of the world. As Aaron Rodgers would say to fans, “Relax…” Everything really will be okay.

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