Becoming Testing Literate

One goal at our school this year it to begin to use some universal language that will be familiar to students as they move from grade to grade. One initiative we are starting school wide (K-5) is accountable talk, so learning communities and expectations are similar. Learn more about accountable talk here.


The second initiative we are starting is common language for the testing grades (3-5). We decided on this strategy to help our students tackle testing.


I spent some time introducing the RELAX strategy to my students last week because we had our first benchmark tests. We use Case 21 which directly aligns to the Common Core curriculum as we teach it. In third grade, we take benchmarks at the end of the first, second, and third nine weeks in reading and math. Since we take the End-of-Grade (EOG) state test, we do not take a benchmark after the fourth nine weeks.

Last year was the first year our county used these assessments. At first, I wasn’t very happy about more standardized testing for my young students. However, I did appreciate that we were able to review these tests with our students. This exposure provided students with practice on testing formats and language. I think reviewing these tests helped students gain confidence for the EOG Test. We reviewed about one math problem a day and really spent time looking at the tricky language. I also enjoyed the item analysis that allowed me to see the breakdown of certain types of questions and how my students did on them. For example, I could see last year that all of my students missed a question that asked how the narrator felt. I knew that I hadn’t ever used the word narrator with my students, so I made sure I introduced key vocabulary during my lessons and reading groups.

This year, we are taking our benchmark assessments on the computer. I don’t mind that we are taking these assessments on the computer, but my biggest concern was that my students know how to use the software. The passage is shown on the left side of the screen and the questions are on the right side of the screen. They have to scroll down to read the entire passage, so I immediately feared that my students would forget and not read the entire selection. I also quickly realized that our new RELAX strategy doesn’t apply to these digital tests because they cannot underline important words or x-out wrong answers to eliminate them.

On the first day of testing, I had two students finish in about 10 minutes. I was frustrated that they hasn’t tried their best. When I asked why they finished so quickly, one student answered that it was fun to click through the questions and he wanted to be finished first. On the second day of testing, I had another student submit the test with about 20 questions blank. A question will pop up and say, “Are you sure you want to submit?” If they skipped a question, it even says “Some of the questions are left unanswered” in red font. However, I can’t look at everyone’s computer screen at the same time, so he submitted it without me knowing if he completed the test. After two days of testing, I was left with a lot of questions. Would these students have tried harder on a paper test? Did it help/hurt any of my students? How will these testing experiences help prepare them for the EOG paper pencil test? What skills do students need to have to take online tests?


2 thoughts on “Becoming Testing Literate

  1. karkk1ka November 8, 2016 / 2:51 am

    As I am preparing to take my certification test for my content area, many of these same strategies are being reintroduced to me in my preparation. They are skills that students will take with them and use longer than they think. It is very helpful to teach students how to take a test, I think it often times is assumed. Your points on computer-based testing prove just that. It takes time to learn how to properly do the process let alone correctly answer the questions. I would be interested to see what the comparison of scores would be if the same test was given both ways.


  2. leighahall November 12, 2016 / 12:14 am

    Ok – the having to scroll is bad and can effect how well they will be able to address the questions. On a paper and pencil test, the text and the questions should be on either one page or on a two page spread. You should never have to flip back and forth. On a computer, the students’ comprehension/ability to answer questions well will be impeded by having to scroll and then match their answer up to a question. It’s poor design, and it will hurt some of your students.

    That said, I do agree we need to prep kids on how to take a test. Testing is its own genre. I think you can accomplish this in one session per week of 20-30 minutes. As you’ve seen, testing online will require some tweaking of the strategies. I’m confident you’ll figure that out. But the scrolling thing….try to make the case that this should not be happening. Someone needs to change that asap. It’s only fair to the students.


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