I'm sure many teachers are in the same boat. We've transitioned to Common Core, but we are still being tested on our old standards. For me, these standards have been most recently revised in 2008 and are somewhat irrelevant to many of the skills and content I'm teaching. I do try to integrate them into my teaching all year, but unfortunately our AIMS test focuses more on memorization of concepts than PARCC will. For example, my students are required to identify which resource they'd use to research various topics. In reality, we'd use the internet for all of them, but on our AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards) test, the students have to decide if they'd use an encyclopedia, magazine, book, or some other resource. I kid you not, the word card catalog shows up in our test prep materials! Most concepts are more applicable, like deciding if a phrase is a simile, metaphor, or idiom. While most of our 2008 reading standards can be integrated into Common Core, the writing is very different. The 2008 standards focus mainly on persuasive writing (the students need to be able to identify types of persuasive techniques....band wagon, loaded words...), narrative writing, and letter writing.
Last year, we've stopped all instruction about two weeks before AIMS testing and did some serious cramming. It was insane. The kids hated it. The teachers hated it. We were majorly stressed by the time testing came around. This year, we decided to try a calmer approach! I don't have any supporting data from the test scores yet, so I am currently evaluating our approach based on my own data and observations. During AIMS testing, my students did use the strategies that I taught them. They were proud of themselves for doing so, and many thanked me for teaching them how to take a test. I am looking forward to receiving the student scores so that I can further analyze the effectiveness of the RTI time and the strategies I taught.
Right after winter break our sixth grade team decided to add an intervention time into our schedule. We have three teachers on our team: ELA, math, and social studies/science. Since AIMS only tests for ELA and math, we focused on these areas. Our social studies/science teacher already supports both subjects so it was simple to do.
We set aside the first 30 minutes of each day as "Brain Boot Camp" time. We feel that our students do much better when they are active, and we love incorporating "brain breaks" aka exercise into our daily classes. We promoted Brain Boot Camp as exercise + test prep, and the kids bought it! Each of the three teachers approached this differently, but we all integrated exercise into our 30 minutes. I liked to show a Just Dance video on my SmartBoard and the kids would dance to the music. I would also do calisthenics like jumping jacks. My students also loved to do wall sits or planks and beat their time from the previous day. One day we went outside and had a relay race. I tried to do something different everyday to keep it interesting. It was a really simple thing, but the kids loved it and actually looked forward to this intervention time because they knew they'd get to be active!
We grouped our students based on our current data for math and reading. We basically targeted the bottom 25% according to 5th grade AIMS data, district benchmarks, SRI scores, and our own observations. I came up with a group of about 12 readers to target and the math teacher did the same. These were basically the students that were in danger of failing the AIMS test this year. We worked on a two week cycle. For example, on week one, I would take my RTI small group while the other two teachers focused on test taking strategies and practice with the rest of the sixth grade. During this week, the math teacher was responsible for planning the activities that the other sixth graders did. We based our plans on current data and the gaps that we needed to fill in due to our 2008 standards being tested. The next week, the math teacher took her RTI group, and the social studies/science teacher and did testing strategies and gap filling with the remaining 6th graders.
I begin my time by pretesting both groups using a test from the Buckle Down Book series and assessing their gaps. This data helped me drive my instruction because it showed me areas of concern for these two groups of students (proficient readers and struggling readers.) I was then able to plan lessons and interventions to meet the needs of my students.
We continued with our RTI time through AIMS testing.
I taught my RTI group and my other sixth graders several strategies to help them navigate the AIMS test. These strategies seem really obvious to me as a teacher, but over the years I've realized that students need to be strategically taught how to take a test well.
We can tell students this until we are blue in the face but until they are shown how to do it, it won't become part of their routine. I begin preaching about this in August and never stop! By testing time, my students are brainwashed! : ) Basically, I teach them how to go back to the text and find proof. Once proof is found, it is highlighted or underlined and used to answer the question. Students are not supposed to answer the question until the proof has been identified. It is like detective work. I tell my students that they will get 90% of their reading questions correct if they just go back to the text. At first, they are skeptical and think it's just a pain. Every year, several students have a huge epiphany when they figure out that it really works!
The AIMS test has some pretty long passages that make going back to the text even less fun. This year, I've taught my students to annotate their passages. As they read, I have them highlight key concepts, but in addition, they write notes off to the side. The notes are just one or two word summaries of what happened in each paragraph. That way, when they do have to go back to the text, they don't have to reread the entire passage to find the correct answer. I have also taught them to annotate the questions by circling or highlighting key words and noting what the question is asking.
Especially in my RTI group, I spent a great deal of time talking about the choices given in an multiple choice exam. I tell my students that there is usually one pretty bad option. I have my students cross that off. I also tell them there will usually be one pretty good answer and one right answer. The tough part is telling those two answers apart. This is where going back to the text comes in handy. If students are deciding between two pretty good answers, they should go with the one that is best supported by the text.