Regents Analysis and a New Test Prep Strategy

This post is reprinted with permission from Science in the City.

I don’t  know if you are in a state that has Regents exams, or if you are in a state that has other state exams instead.

Here in NY, we have Regents exams.  They are exams given at the end of the course, in most high school courses, and passing a certain number of them in each content area is a graduation requirement.
I teach in an urban district, where the passing rates are fairly low.  I am always looking for ways to help students be successful on those tests.  I have tried many other things (which I may write about in other posts).
A colleague and I are trying a new strategy now.  Here is our plan (really, it was my colleague’s plan first, and then I have adpated to my class):
 – Analyze the past few years Regents exams, correlate them to the NYS standards, to determine which topics are the most heavily tests, and what those test questions look like.  In other words, which standards are emphasized on the exams, and how are those standards translated into test questions.
– Starting about now, give students weekly 10 question quizzes.  The quizzes will be made out of the most commonly tested standards.
– As students get questions right, the quizzes will adapt to include the next most commonly asked questions.
– The quizzes are being done on http://www.socrative.com.  This allows me to add an explanation to the questions.  Students can take the quiz, know immediately how they did, and as they see their answer, see an explanation of why the correct answer is correct.  I am encouraging them to take  notes, and study those notes.  If they are getting questions wrong, there is a good chance that they will see the same questions next week.
– As I see a question that the class as a whole is not progressing on, I can go back and target that for a quick ‘intervention.’
So far, students are enthusiastic.  One of my top students even said “So we are starting review now?!”
Me: “Yes, a little bit of review”
Student: “That’s a good idea, then when we get to June it won’t be so overwhelming!”

That’s the idea.  Those students who advance faster through, will get more review, but those who advance slower will still review and hopefully “get” the most commonly tested concepts.
profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

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Break a Cycle of Repeated Failure: Create the Perfect Day

When it comes to standardized testing, does it really matter if a student brings a jacket or a favorite pencil? If they test in the morning or afternoon? If they test on the computer or with paper and pencil?

Work of Tron Guignard -- I had the privilege of being Tron's 8th grade math teacher.  This is one of a couple of great comics Tron made for me and kindly gave me permission to use.

Work of Tron Guignard — I had the privilege of being Tron’s 8th grade math teacher. This is one of the great comics Tron made for me in 2007 and kindly gave me permission to use.

Backstory: A standardized Algebra test stands in between my students and high school graduation.  For many that test is a walk in the park, but for a few this test is a reoccurring nightmare.  I coach the latter group of kids in a shortened period designed to remedy any Algebra deficiency before the next retake. If only it were that simple, but frankly, actually knowing Algebra is only half the battle for these whom have repeatedly failed.  Around every quarter, I am assigned a new group of students whom have experienced repeated failure on this state Algebra assessment.

Bubba (name changed to protect the guilty) defied logic. According to all pretests, he should have passed the Algebra state test, yet here Bubba was in my mid-day remediation for retakers. After I had repeatedly looked for some deficiency and came up with none, Bubba finally complained to me, “They tested me in the morning. I’m never awake in the morning. I don’t warm-up until lunch.” Our awesome testing coordinator (You rock, Andi!) and I conferred. She arranged for an afternoon testing, and I made him swear that he would make the extra scheduling hassle worth it by passing. He passed.

Since then, we keep our ears open to the complaints or concerns of students caught in a cycle of failure. The conditions are different for each. This semester one student was convinced a Friday test in the morning would create his best day. For another an IEP accommodation of verbatim reading had to be by a human and not headphones. Does it really matter? Does testing on a certain day of the week really produce a better result than testing on a random day? For the repeat failer, the issue is not whether or not they actually need a certain condition. The issue is whether or not they believe a certain condition will make a difference. As mentioned in a previous post, my biggest hurdle is convincing retesters that they CAN pass the assessment. Let’s not underestimate the mind game. One darling student absolutely refused to test because he was convinced the computer monitor would give him a migraine. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” ― Henry Ford

If to break the cycle of repeated failure it takes testing on Friday, bringing hair ties, or providing a room fan, I’ll buy in. Bubba has taught me two things: (1) Keep an open ear to student’s passing complaints. (2) Never discredit the affect of the environment on poor testers.
Perhaps a perfect day is just the confidence builder that some students need to believe passing is possible.


AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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When Content Competency Isn’t Enough…

The Challenge of Repeated Failure

A standardized Algebra test stands in between my students and high school graduation.  For many that test is a walk in the park, but for a few this test is a reoccurring nightmare.  I coach the latter group of kids in a shortened period designed to remedy any Algebra deficiency before the next retake.  If only it were that simple, but frankly, actually knowing Algebra is only half the battle for these whom have repeatedly failed.  A lack of reading and test-taking skills are often root causes.  However, my biggest hurdle is convincing these students that they CAN do it.Why Try

After failing 3 or 4 times (some more), they come to me demoralized, beaten, conditioned to expect defeat.  Mantras like “I’ll never pass” or “I’m just going to drop out” roll of their tongues.  Unless we break through the fallacy that passing the test isn’t possible, student efforts to learn Algebra are half-hearted at best — the Expectancy-Value Theory of Motivation at work in our everyday classroom.

I would love to hear your tips on what works to address this issue.  Here are a few tips that experience has taught me:

Don’t start with a pre-assessment or diagnostic test to see what they know–not for this group. I learned this the hard way.  Identify what holes the students have in their learning and patch them, right?  Wrong!  A test showing me and subsequently them how much they don’t know only reinforces their stated or unstated belief that they will never succeed.  Instead, I now start with a pep talk and an easier skill that requires a lot of street sense.  Ensure success the first few days.

Tell the truth.  Teenagers seem to have a radar for honesty in adults.  I never lightly tell a student that they will pass.    When I say, “He’s ready” like Skipper in the Disney movie Planes, it means something.

Testimonials of friends help.  Thankfully, I have quite a few successful rotations of remediation under my belt now.  Chances are high that my new group of retesters has at least one friend from one of my prior groups.  When former students from this special group greet me in the hall, I ask if they are willing to share how they overcame.  A lot of times this happens informally; on their own initiative, kids do a little background research on their teachers by asking friends, of course.

Tout your track record.  I don’t hesitate to point out how many seniors passed this test and graduated last year.   I talk about success rates from previous groups (not by student name of course).   I tell them how many years I have been teaching Algebra, and only Algebra.   I share with them some of the test-taking strategies such as “Prove your answer right using a different method” that they may not be familiar with in an effort to show them that I have something new to share with them.   If they can’t believe in themselves at the moment, maybe they will believe in you.

Today, I’ll have to make my sales pitch again.  The test date is impending.  In my relatively new group, one girl is just not consistently buying into believing in herself.  About every third day she regresses to the fallacy of “I can’t.”  Maybe today will be our breakthrough.


AlgebraSimplifiedIcon
Dawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies. Full Bio

Test Prep – Are your Students’ Brains on Fear or Freedom?

Test Prep’s as much about calming anxiety as it’s about culling up facts to faceoff with memory. Are you aware that savvy test review can literally boost a brain to remember content, make connections and solve problems. The opposite is also true. Study under stress and you can wipe out a brain’s databanks much like tsunamis wipe out entire villages.
believe ellen

Here are four student-tested secrets to consider for higher grades and lower anxiety:

1. To do is to boost understanding. Since the brain shapes itself more by what we do than by what we memorize, have students act on a lesson fact. Actions teach. It could be as small as telling their family the most interesting or funny parts of a lesson or mimicking a character in literature or history. Or it could be teaching their pet five facts for an upcoming test. Students retain 90% more when they teach as they are learning, and pets love the attention!

2. Learning can be fun, so play your way into understanding. We call it funderstanding here at the brain center. It’s much like facts learned on a family holiday, or during a digital game. Skills stick when worry stops. Link facts to humorous settings, and you’ll remember more, for instance. Or draw sketches into margins of a text – to sketch them again as a memory-guide during a test.

3. Use facts you learn to fix something you do. Apply one fact from your text to improve your situation. Let’s say you learn about one scientist’s persistence. Jot down two ways he or she “hung in” or “created peace out of chaos” and the next time you face a difficult situation try one tactic that scientist used. Then expect to remember how it worked for the test.

4. Curiosity amps up capability. Ask a cool question about your facts, such as “What if …? Then look for interesting answers. Engage peers or parents with test topics that may interest them. Toss out the question, “Have you thought about…? Now you already lifted a mere fact up to the elevated capability that follows from curiosity.
fear ellen

 

My students love to display their journey from fear to freedom. They each contribute one strategy used to stay calm and enjoy test prep. We then display their suggestions as reminders. What would move your students from fear to freedom before their next quiz or standardized test?

 


EllenBrain7 (1)Ellen Weber is a whole brain curriculum specialist at secondary and higher education. She works in secondary and college learning renewal where she has won awards internationally for her practical brain based Mita model to engage both sides of students’ brains.