The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has placed a greater emphasis on standardized tests and, thereby, test preparation. Instructors, parents, and schools can employ a number of strategies to improve students' test readiness and ensure that students perform to the best of their abilities on standardized tests. Some of these strategies include curriculum integration, test prep homework, school-wide test prep weeks, extending the school day, and the use of products from private test prep companies. Schools and teachers also need to be aware of the barriers they may face – such as a lack of resources or poor instruction quality – so that they may address and overcome these obstacles.
Keywords Adequate Yearly Progress; Curriculum Integration; Experiential Learning; High-Stakes Testing; Mini Lessons; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Remediation; Standardized Testing; Test Preparation; Test Readiness; Test-Taking Strategies
Test readiness has become a major concern for schools, districts and states as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has brought the improvement student proficiency to the forefront of education. Because of the consequences NCLB attaches to poor test scores, instructors need to insure that their students are as prepared as they can be to perform their best on standardized tests.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires students to be assessed in mathematics and language arts in grades three through eight as well as at least once during high school by the 2005- 2006 school year. By the 2007-2008 school year, states will also have to assess their students in science – at least once in grades three through five, once in grades six through nine, and once in grades ten through twelve. NCLB also mandates that each state pose challenging academic content standards and align these content standards to the assessments. The act, however, does not define content standards, set states' performance standards, or detail the type of assessments or cutoff scores that should be used, leaving these determinations up to each individual state.
In accordance with the percentage of students who function at or above proficiency, NCLB determines the standards states will use to set their annual measurable objectives. These objectives then are used to measure the annual yearly progress of schools, districts, and states, and determine the progress goals needed to ensure that every student will achieve proficiency by 2014.
If an insufficient percentage of students pass state tests, schools have not made adequate yearly progress. Sanctions are implemented on the institutions that fail to meet the annual yearly progress for two years or more; the consequences are constantly increasing in severity for schools that continue to miss their targets. Students can be transferred to other schools, staff replaced, and funding withdrawn. Eventually, the state may take over the school (Linn, 2005).
Many children find it difficult to demonstrate their knowledge under standardized test conditions, and integrating test preparation into daily lessons can help instructors determine and correct any difficulties their students may have. Curriculum integration provides students with the strategies they need to be successful when taking tests and are a part of an instructor's lesson plan. Examples of curriculum integration include the following (Taylor & Walton, 2001):
• For states that require students to prove their reasoning abilities by writing short answers, students should be required to frequently write short answer responses and receive feedback on their responses. Instructors can also give their students examples of high-quality responses and, providing guidance as necessary, have them identify the characteristics of a good short answer response. This can help students work through any troubles they may have with writing their responses.
• Since standardized tests require students to work independently, classes that are usually group oriented and collaborative in nature should have periods of time each day during which students have to work on their own. This will accustom them to working on problems independently.
• To alleviate the anxiety that can sometimes arise during high-stakes testing or any testing situation, instructors can encourage students to express their concerns in order to identify exactly what it is that makes them anxious. Instructors can teach their students some stress relieving exercises, such as slow breathing, meditation exercises. These can be practiced in class and used before classroom quizzes and tests.
• Keeping in mind that most standardized tests tend to use language, speech patterns or testing formats that may not be familiar to every school or district, instructors should expose their students to many different kinds of exams and testing formats to better prepare them for the state-wide exams. An example of this would be to present mathematics problems both vertically and horizontally, despite whether or not the classroom textbook presents both ways. Instructors might also use different terms to cover the same concept - subtract, minus, take away, find the difference, etc. - to help students recognize unfamiliar terms in a standardized testing situation.
If there is no time to integrate test preparation into the curriculum, instructors can present mini lessons on standardized testing instead. These lessons should begin about two weeks before the test date; last between thirty and fifty minutes, depending on how much assistance students need; and be sequenced so that each lesson builds on the previous lesson. While complete test preparation curriculum integration may be a more effective strategy to use, these mini lessons can provide students with structured opportunities to learn test-taking abilities. However, students should also have experiential learning opportunities to practice the techniques presented and understand how they can benefit them on the test date (Taylor & Walton, 2001).
In order to help students demonstrate their knowledge and do as well as they can on standardized tests, there are several things instructors can do (Taylor & Walton, 2001):
• Determine the characteristics and literacy format of a particular test in order to teach their students how to read them and determine what the test item or test is assessing.
• Help students develop their test-taking strategies, such as 'answer what you know first,' 'if you get stuck, pass over it and move on to the next question,' 'underline important information,' and 'using the process of elimination.
• Provide opportunities for students to work together and talk about the strategies that help them most so that they can identify which strategies are effective and which ones are ineffective. This can help students gain awareness of what taking a standardized test entails and how to handle sucha process.
• Work with students in examining various test formats and language to help them recognize which strategies are useful for each format and language.
These techniques can prove effective for students who are struggling with standardized testing by providing experiential learning opportunities and instruction.
Because of the consequences for failing to meet progress targets, the No Child Left Behind Act has made testing a truly high-stakes proposition for schools, districts, and states. As a result, schools and districts have developed new methods for preparing their students to demonstrate proficiency on standardized tests.
With all the testing now required by states and the limited amount of classroom time available provide preparation on every subject, instructors are looking for alternative ways to prepare their students. One way to increase instructional time is to involve students' parents in the learning process....
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