Reflection: High Quality Task Using a Formative ACT for Skill-Driven Test Prep - Section 2: Introduction


Doing things specifically (and solely) for ACT preparation (or any other test preparation, for that matter) really chafes me as a teacher.  They have programs that prepare students for the ACT if they really want to improve just for those 4 hours of their lives, but I don't think that a school day, week, month, or more should be devoted to preparing kids for just four hours of their very, very long lives.  That just seems crazy.

That said, we are required to do ACT prep in my school.  I understand the importance of preparing students for the ACT (both for the student and the school, whose funding is so tied to assessments like this), but it really just pains my soul.  Instead of bucking the trend entirely, I sat around for a long time and asked myself how I could make this required activity a worthwhile activity.  I also considered what you really needed to know for the ACT...not the "choose C when in doubt!" mentality, but what skills you need to do well.  After all this consideration, it occurred to me that if you frame the ACT in skills, they really are quite valuable to assess, instruct, and refine.  In fact, they are also consistent with the Common Core Standards!  (It's too bad that more people don't see this connection between skills and meaning, rather than just testing and using arbitrary numbers to "make" meaning!)  I started looking at ACT tests in terms of skills--generally at first, but then item-by-item, and that's how this workbook idea was born.  It took a lot of work to make the workbook, but the information it can give to you as an instructional planner and your students for their own supplemental work is SO worth it!  (And honestly, before I put this into Google Forms and Excel, I did it on PAPER, which was so much more work and more time!  Those memories are still fresh in my mind, so the work of a designing a spreadsheet never really bothered me that much!)

Overall, this formative assessment offers so much more than just take-a-practice-test-then-look-at-the-score-and-repeat activities do.  Students respond better because they see the value in an assessment which gives them areas to work on, not just a number that they feel determines their fate, for better or for worse.  Taking a plethora of practice tests without knowing what specific skills to work on seems like beating your head against the wall or doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  That's why in my curriculum, you'll only ever see two days devoted to "practice tests," and both are set up in this fashion.  On many days in between these pre & post assessments, you'll see we'll work on comma skills or complex subject/verb agreement or other skills that look strikingly familiar from this spreadsheet, but they will always be couched into another lesson somewhere, taking the pain, boredom, and apathy out of ACT Prep.  Every year I have done this, ACT results have improved and student skills are noticeably advanced, and I hope that you see similar results in your school!

  ACT Prep=Wasted Energy. Skill Prep? Now THAT'S useful for the Common Core (and ACT!)
  High Quality Task: ACT Prep=Wasted Energy. Skill Prep? Now THAT'S useful for the Common Core (and ACT!)
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Using a Formative ACT for Skill-Driven Test Prep

Unit 6: Multitasking with Modernism & Research Skills
Lesson 7 of 9

Objective: SWBAT ascertain skill strengths and weaknesses to improve instruction and ACT preparation by taking a digital practice test and continue gathering relevant, credible research to support their argumentative research projects.

Big Idea: Want to grade 150 Reading & English practice ACTs in 3 minutes while generating student-specific and whole-class skill reports? Read this!

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act pretest s skill breakdown
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