The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

ISAT Test Prep

Of all the things I have written about on my blogs since I first started recording my adventures, the one topic that has received the single most search queries has been ISAT test prep. (The second most common topic is my review of Gloria Ladson-Billings’ book The Dreamkeepers.)

I find this rather amusing, since I try not to place too much emphasis on preparing for the Illinois Standard Achievement Test. It is a series of high-stakes test administered during the third quarter, and the results are taken very seriously as the higher levels of our public education system. But at the lowest level, that is, at the classroom level? Well, yes and no. I take the test results seriously, but since they don’t get released until the summer, and parents don’t get to see them until the next school year starts, the tests don’t do much to help me guide my instruction. And if I am not guiding instruction based on the assessment itself, I am going to focus on more important data, such as my formative assessments and benchmarks.

All that being said, I do see the value in state-wide standardized testing and I don’t want any of my students to shrug them off as unimportant. Just because I feel something else is more important does not mean that I don’t think that the tests have no value. They do. And so I want my students to be able to perform at their best.

We all behave differently in different situations. It is appropriate to do so. When I am at home watching a movie with my friends, my behaviour is different than when I am at school working with a reading group. The way our kindergarten teachers talk to their students is very different from the way they talk to our principal! And the way we take a test in my classroom, often short, open response tests that students have as much time as needed to take, is different from the more strictly controlled series of tests we are going to take before Spring Break.

Which is why we have started our ISAT test prep today. It isn’t because I don’t think my students will be prepared for the content. I believe they will be. It isn’t because I think they need to be taught “to the test.” My regular teaching already does that. It is because the ISAT test is nothing like we do in my classroom. Three 45-minute sessions with a 10-minute buffer for those still working, with a combination of multiple choice, short response, and extended response questions for reading, the same for math, and two for science, for a total of eight tests to be administered over the course of four days. Our test prep is beautifully simple: we will read short passages and examine the format of the questions. The students practice responding and learn strategies for communicating with the test graders in a way that is both effective and appropriate. I often see this picture floating around on social networking sites:

(There is a quote related to this that is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but my brief online research has indicated that the attribution is dubious.)

I want all of my students to be able to climb the tree. That means they need to be taught how to do so. The only way it can be fair to administer the same test to every student is to teach every student how to take the test. So we will be doing ISAT test prep in my classroom over the next few weeks. It won’t dominate what we do, and it won’t be a high-pressure event. But my students will know what is expected on the test and how best to respond in a way that will convey their understanding of the questions given them!


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