Round about this time of year, I usually write my newsletter about the upcoming MCAS test. I share how we prepare in class and what families can do to support students as we roll along. The last 9 years have afforded me the luxury of knowing the MCAS test inside and out so we can easily find balance within the classroom between test prep and other requirements we must fulfill outside of testing.
This year, we are all venturing into new territory when it comes to standardized testing. Many students nationwide will be taking the newly-developed PARCC tests in place of the MCAS. As teachers, we have been learning more and more about the format of the tests, and you might remember I spent some time this past fall giving feedback to those who design the test. This year, I have the added layer of being a new 4th grade teacher. The curriculum and work expectations are new to me, so at times I feel like a fish out of water. Sometimes it is a challenge to parse out the differences between what is New To Me and what is New To Everyone.
There are a few elements I feel we are working through as we prepare 303 students for this year’s testing while preserving other essential human elements in the classroom. I thought I’d share them with families if they are still unfamiliar with the new PARCC tests.
1. The test is on a computer (for us, Chromebooks). For most of my students, this is a big YAHOO! For others, it is not as exciting as some might predict. Keyboarding familiarity is important, as are some basic computer skills my students are honing. We have two sessions in the computer lab each week, as well as several hours per week on the Chromebooks. Every minute students spend on devices is a step in the right direction, as we are making sure we have time to practice basic file-management-type-skills. Student skills are on the rise, and anxieties are being met with reassurance and 1:1 assistance when necessary.
2. This isn’t your grandmother’s multiple choice. 303 students are learning the multiple-choice questions on the PARCC test are not always asking for one answer; sometimes they are asking for more than one. Sometimes the test asks us to choose an answer for #5, and then #6 asks us to choose the best reason to support that answer. We keep reminding students to choose the best option, even though there might be other plausible ones. Truth be told, even as adults we are sometimes hard-pressed to figure out the right answer. These questions are tough and make us really think. I’m very proud to listen to your children talk about these questions and their reasons for choosing particular answers.
3. What are we thinking? The PARCC folks want to know what students think after they are exposed to two or three selections on the same topic. They want to see how kids compare, contrast and convey their understanding. We have been doing this since the fall, and I am thoroughly impressed with how students are now diving back into the reading to find supporting evidence when constructing answers. One of the biggest challenges my students are facing is the fact that they have to include so many facets in their written answers. With consistent feedback, modeling and encouragement, I am seeing huge growth in my students’ ability to express opinions using evidence from their selections. A tall order for 10 year-olds!
4. Tick Tick Tick Tick…. This year, students may feel the pinch of a timed test. The MCAS had very little in the way of deadlines, but students mostly finished within 90 minutes or so. The PARCC will stop (after a similar amount of time), which I find students are unaccustomed to. We are trying to pay closer attention to the classroom clock throughout the day so students are more aware of how time passes. They actually crack me up, in that most students aren’t tuned-in to the passage of time in general.
5. Basic Skills Remix: In math, students are required to apply basic skills they have acquired over the past several years. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills will be pushed to the limits as students decide how to apply them in challenging problems. I have told my students many times they already possess skills necessary to succeed. They only need to commit those skills to their problem solving to make it all come together.
6. Families can STILL help! If you are the lucky family member of a 4th grader, you can still provide valuable support! Make sure students are getting adequate sleep, eating healthy and staying active. Remind them every single day that Effort Affects Everything, and that everything we do in school is important.
My teaching emphasis hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years. Though each spring my young students are faced with challenging assessments, I let them know they are so much more than a number on a paper. We work hard to do our best on tests, but in the end it is the rest of our interactive, reflective learning that dictates the success of our school year.
Case in point: Tomorrow morning we are walking the half-mile to Lawrence School to help 8th graders build their sleds for the upcoming Iditarod. We will head back to Mullen-Hall and soon thereafter will practice our performance for our All-School meeting entitled “Be PROUD, Be YOU!”. As always, we will blog, Tweet, sing, dance, laugh, write, read and problem-solve the week away.
We will personify Balance as we continue to navigate 4th grade together. As always, thank you for your support as we work together as a team!
Our Science Fair Welcome video – created using DoInk, KomaKoma and iMovie