Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reassuring news

Let me flash way back to my own experience as a high school student.  I managed to sneak out of high school with very few standardized tests required for graduation.  The ones that were required were given in 7th grade, I passed them on the first go, and I was left to just LEARN in high school. At least, that's until I took my first AP class as a 10th grade student.  Between 10th and 12th grade, I took 5 AP classes and only one of those teachers didn't focus on the test.  The AP history and government teachers were always talking about how to beat the test.  I can still tell you with certainty that I took the AP Euro test on May 10 because Mr. McAvoy repeated it daily, God rest his soul.  The only AP class where I specifically remember the teacher didn't discuss the test in any detail until May was AP Bio.  I believe it was not coincidental that the only AP test for which I scored a 5 was AP Bio.  Mrs. Svoboda taught the AP bio curriculum, ran us through all 12 labs (including my favorites using gel electrophoresis and drosophila), and even talked to us about the biological ramifications of the harsh conditions the participants suffered during the first season of the TV show Survivor.  We didn't talk about testing. 

I try to remember Mrs. Svoboda's style amid the pressure to do well on standardized tests.  This past year it was really easy to basically ignore the fact that "the test" was coming up because I had few materials to use to prepare my students.  I taught the curriculum, tried my best to provide support in areas where students were not being successful, and used spiral reviews to keep things fresh.  I looked for more open-ended and higher-level tasks than I'd used before.  And we talked about math every single day. 

As far as test prep, I was mostly focused on getting students to feel comfortable using a computer to answer extended response questions since they had little to no previous experience doing any math other than multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank on computer.  We spend part of a period messing around with equation editor because that was so new to them.  We tried the sample items on the PARCC website just to look at formatting and test features, figuring out how to graph a line for example.  That took about 1 period just before the PBA.  And then we were done with "test prep" and we got back to the real learning- building rubber band cannons to model linear and quadratic relationships. 

It turned out well.  My awesome students last year had a 91.4% pass rate on the PARCC Algebra I test, compared with 31% overall in my state.  Certainly, it's important to note that I was blessed with motivated students who came in to my class well-prepared.  I'm proud of their perseverance when the math got tricky and their patience with me as I was trying new things!  Now, the question becomes how I translate some of that success to the high school level in my new job.  And, perhaps the bigger question, how much do these scores really matter in the end?  They capture just a snapshot of a student's learning.  We have to keep in mind that one score cannot represent the entirety of a student's knowledge in a subject area. 

How much "test prep" do you explicitly do in class?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

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