When test-prep is mentioned today, the conversation is almost exclusively in reference to preparation for standardized tests. Like it or not, student performance on standardized tests is often the measure by which those outside the classroom determine whether or not the school and teachers are complying with state and federal mandates.
Participation and willful cooperation with mandated assessments varies widely from school to school. Doorway to College Foundation studies the most-positive practices in the most-successful school districts and then helps struggling schools adopt these practices. At the root of this effort is the question, “Is there anything the district can do to support teachers and encourage students to perform better on mandated assessments such as the ACT?” The short answer is, “YES!”
Based on the input of hundreds of teachers over three decades, Doorway to College Foundation has identified three dimensions of positive and effective test preparation:
1) Teacher Inclusion
2) Test Strategy
3) Content Review and Practice
In schools where students tend for the most part to do well on standardized tests, these examinations are not overly disruptive. Parents, teachers, and administrators in these schools benefit from a common belief that education provides essential, lifelong benefits for children, and examinations are an expected component of the educational system. It is also understood and accepted that the assessment reflects only one perspective on the question, “With the resources at our disposal, are we doing as well as we hope to do?”
Doorway to College Foundation believes there are specific things a school can do to help teachers and students — and even parents — feel engaged and included in mandated assessment programs like the ACT. However, these efforts all must begin with the inclusion of teachers in planning for success.
Good test-taking is a skill. Although some students develop this skill intuitively in the early grades, for those intimidated by the testing environment, test-taking strategy needs careful and individual attention. All students improve their chance of realizing their potential on an examination if they have an appropriate strategy going in. On the other hand, at any given ability level, students can stumble into numerous ways to score less than their best.
In a sense, standardized tests are academic competitions. Students are being compared to others who are in the same grade or have the same goal, such as enrolling at a selective university. With any competition, those who are prepared tend to perform better. Students need to be ready to attack a 3 to 4-hour exam—without giving up before it’s over.
Every student should know the format of the test in each content area. On an individualized basis, they should know how to best use their time. And, if practice materials are available, they should know how to approach each type of question.
With the ACT, as with graduate license exams, commercial test-prep companies often market the idea that students can “game the test” using secret tricks or methods obtained only by paying large sums of money. Unfortunately, these companies are selling snake-oil cure-alls. Their performance claims are not supported by any valid research.
The most-effective ACT test-taking strategies are those aligned with good teaching. For the most-positive impact, Doorway to College Foundation suggests the following school-wide strategy:
This ties back to the oldest form of test prep. Clearly, the best way to do well on a math test is to learn the math. Content review is a way of refreshing what may have been learned and forgotten. It also avoids the careless errors caused by rusty skills.
Practice items and practice tests are an excellent way to prepare for a multiple-choice test such as the ACT. The individual practice items will indicate areas of weakness where a deeper content review is required. With a knowledgeable teacher, a complete practice test can suggest appropriate guidance on pacing and application of other test-taking strategies specific for each student.
Doorway to College Foundation offers the following guidelines for content review:
State-mandated tests do not have to be viewed as a negative disruption to instruction. Instead, they can be the catalyst for bringing together faculty, students, and parents to work toward a mutual goal. For more information on how to implement teacher inclusion to gain faculty buy-in and improve test scores, contact us at Doorway to College Foundation. Call 877-927-8378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, fill out the form to the right, and your regional manager will contact you shortly.