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“Test Prep”

This post has been marinating in my mind for awhile now. I made myself promise it to you last week to make sure I would actually write it. I need to write it. Then Saturday came…and went in a lazy-busy way that is perfect for Saturdays, but not so perfect for remembering to blog. Which brings us to now. And TEST PREP.

When I first entered the field, test prep was almost a taboo term. Almost. We didn’t want to teach to the test, we wanted to teach to students’ needs. It seems we’ve shifted our focus a little, almost believing that the need is to pass the test. And in some ways it is. Here in Indiana, our third graders will take the first ever IREAD test. If they don’t pass, they’ll take it again at a later date. If they don’t pass the second time, then they must be retained. Now that “must be” is filled with conversation, but the basic gist is pass the IREAD or retake third grade.

I understand the high stakes of these tests.

Also, here in Indiana (and I’m sure other places too), teacher pay is soon to be linked to the performance of students on standardized tests. All teachers will be evaluated on the results of standardized tests.

I understand the high stakes of these tests.

My own children, who have been told and told and told not to worry about the tests are anxious — and only one actually takes a state test this year! But the others are computers and teachers and other ways to show if they are “on track” and “prepared to succeed” on future standardized tests. My daughter complains of stomach aches, and I have to wonder if it is because of the emphasis on test prep.

I understand the high stakes of these tests.

But…(You knew it was coming, right?)

I understand more than the high stakes of standardized tests. So I’m willing to shoulder the “test prep,” and wrap strong arms around workshop teaching.

I understand children learn at different rates. I understand some years they are sponges and grow and develop at warp speeds, while other years there may not be as much growth.

I understand there are influences on the results of standardized tests other than if a child knows the information. Wording of questions matter. Personal lives matter. Health matters.

I understand there isn’t a silver bullet to prepare to face standardized tests. Although there are many gimmicks and people and websites that promise, guarantee even, that if you use their materials your students will perform well on standardized tests, I know this isn’t the truth.

I understand we’re working with children, not objects. Children who are finding themselves and developing understandings. I understand my job is to foster a love of learning. To encourage and inspire children to take risks and figure things out and muck around a little in the mess of learning.

Most importantly, I understand the child matters more than a score on a test.

And so I approach test prep from this stance. I want children to face that test, with confidence and hope and a warrior’s spirit. I want them to know they know the things they need to succeed. I want them to be bold and trust themselves. I want them to believe they are the kinds of people who perform well on tests.

This happens through workshop teaching — not gimmicks or drill and practice worksheets. When students have time to write and read in authentic ways, on topics of their interest and choosing, then they develop the skills they need to succeed on standardized tests.

This week, my involvement in test prep is to help young writers realize all they know about writing — and to believe this is more than enough for them to be successful on a standardized test. We will make charts about the things we know as writers, and students will claim strategies for themselves. They’ll practice using craft and conventions. They’ll smile about the things they can do. This is our focus…the things they can do — not the ways they are falling short. And they will face the test feeling encouraged and loved.

Avi said it best —

If you want to teach me to write, first you must love me.

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

20 thoughts on ““Test Prep” Leave a comment

  1. Ruth,
    I know how passionate you are about the writers and their writing.
    We, as teachers, must convey to these young minds just how capable they are when they meet this task. Parents worry. Teachers worry. Administrators worry. So much worry on these young shoulders. We must come along side and hug them with our smiles and words.


  2. What a beautiful post! I read the title and assumed it would be a negative post, but you did an amazing job of framing your thoughts positively! I love how you approached it by listing all the things that you and your students will still do, and how that will make them stronger than “test prep” would. I also love the line about “a warrior’s spirit”! Your students are so incredibly lucky to be in your classroom!


  3. Hi Ruth and Stacey,
    Ruth . . . I know – what is going on – I started in education ten years ago and it seems that under new leadership that things were going to change, but it seems like the stakes of these tests are just getting more intense.
    Don’t get me wrong – I am all for high expectations and accountable teaching, but I just feel like we are going about it all wrong. The CCLS have the potential to represent a beautiful call for teachers nationwide to come together inside their schools and craft curriculum, but a mandate instead of an invitation does little to inspire.
    I found a lot of comfort in the following poem on Vicki Vinton’s blog – it was just what the doctor ordered . . . I hope that it will be a gentle reminder for all of us of what’s important – It is entitled Revolution for the Tested and it’s written by Kate Messner (I wish that I had written this poem!). It can be found at the following website:


    But don’t write what they tell you to.
    Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
    Counting sentences as you go
    Put your pencil down.

    Don’t write to fill in lines.
    For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
    Handing out points for main ideas
    Supported by examples
    From the carefully selected text.

    Write for yourself.
    Write because until you do,
    You will never understand
    What it is you mean to say
    Or who you want to be.
    Write because it makes you whole.

    And write for the world.
    Because your voice is important.
    Write because people are hurting
    Because animals are dying
    Because there is injustice
    That will never change if you don’t.
    Write because it matters.

    And know this.
    They’ll tell you it won’t make a difference,
    Not to trouble over grownup things,
    Just fill in the lines
    And leave it at that.
    Tell them you know the truth.
    That writing is powerful.
    Just one voice on the page
    Speaks loudly.
    And not only can a chorus of those united change the world.
    It is the only thing that ever has.


    But don’t read what they tell you to.
    Don’t read excerpts, half-poems,
    Carefully selected for lexile content,
    Or articles written for the sole purpose
    Of testing your comprehension.

    Don’t read for trinkets,
    For pencils or fast food coupons.
    Don’t even read for M&M’s.
    And don’t read for points.

    Read for yourself.
    Read because it will show you who you are,
    Who you want to be some day,
    And who you need to understand.
    Read because it will open doors
    To college and opportunity, yes,
    And better places still…
    Doors to barns where pigs and spiders speak,
    To lands where anything is possible.
    To Hogwarts and Teribithia,
    To Narnia and to Hope.

    Read for the world.
    Read to solve its problems.
    Read to separate reality from ranting,
    Possibility from false promise.
    And leaders from snake oil peddlers.
    Read so you can tell the difference.
    Because an educated person is so much harder
    To enslave.

    And know this.
    They’ll say they want what’s best for you,
    That data doesn’t lie.
    Tell them you know the truth.
    Ideas can’t be trapped in tiny bubbles.
    It’s not about points
    On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
    And it never will be.

    Copyright 2010 ~ Kate Messner


  4. Positiveness. Thank you for voicing what my heart is believing. I shared with kids this week that half the battle is them believing in themselves, believing in the knowledge they have been practicing throughout the year. These weeks, I have been a cheerleader as a teacher. And you should see the smiles – smiles of relief and confidence.


  5. Oh how I appreciate you saying that teaching is what will help kids do well on tests and not gimmicks or drill activities. Thank you for confirming my strong belief that good teaching equals natural test preparation. When approaching test prep, teachers must now instruct their students in using the skills they have acquired in a testing situation. NYC teachers have approximately 4 weeks to do just that.


  6. Oh, the pain it must cause all of you to have these tests linger over everything. I am glad to hear a voice that keeps it positive. If you do want to be rid of it, come overseas! We still do standardized testing (M.A.P.), but without the ‘high stakes’. Yes, kids need to know good test taking skills, but not as a focus of their schooling.


  7. I wish to have had a teacher like you. You are a “warrior”! Positve reenforcement goes so much farther with all of us than negative. Might I empose on you and ask a question? Being a teacher I’ll assume you answered yes. I have started my own blog and it has already been a journey. However, I can not get it to pin on pinterest. can you give me a quick hint on this? Thanks, because I know you are a busy person but really need a hand!!


  8. There is so much beauty in this post I can only say thank you for writing it. Good teaching is so much more than “test prep” for our students. Those lessons stick and inspire and hold them up as they power on to meet new goals. That’s empowerment. That’s hope. And that’s what we can give our students if we stick with doing what we know is right.


  9. Ruth Wow! You are right, you show us with gentleness and courage. I shudder when I hear what other states are doing. How many ways can we sabotage our public school system and insuring our students get a rounded education?

    I have been listening to the politicians bash public education and I am afraid.


  10. This is our focus…the things they can do — not the ways they are falling short. And they will face the test feeling encouraged and loved. It’s quite a plan & I wish everyone so well. Colorado law was just signed last week to tie the test scores to teacher evaluation. I am grateful there are those thoughtful educators like you Ruth, who teach children not test-taking.


  11. I love this post. I have used the idea of using writing workshop throughout the year and then having writing to a prompt as a genre right before the test to familiarize students with showing what they know in that format. I love your twist of emphasizing even more that the genre study is focusing on a celebration of all that they know as writers.


  12. Thank you for your positive spirit!! I also really like the line with confidence and hope and a warrior’s spirit! It is changing my thinking about this weeks test prep lesson. We will embrace what we know and can do!! Thanks!


  13. “So I’m willing to shoulder the ‘test prep,’ and wrap strong arms around workshop teaching.”

    The beauty of your words here does your message justice. I want to tug these words around me like a cloak of goodness. I will carry them with me into my classroom tomorrow, tucked in a pocket of my heart. I will let these words drive my approach with my students as we inch our way towards ISAT testing here in Illinois.

    You are wonder*full. No wonder Deb wants you teaching her grandchildren.

    I am glad you are teaching me.


  14. Ruth, I so agree. Can’t believe how many schools have asked me to come in and do PD on Test Prep. And ISTEP Prep lessons. I really think they DO believe I have a magic bullet. If they haven’t been writing, not much to do now. Just rethink: What will I do differently next year!


  15. Love your line that you want kids to face the test “with confidence and hope and a warrior’s spirit.” Me too, my friend, me too. We start our test exactly two weeks from tomorrow. I have spent the year helping kids to become readers, writers, mathematicians, and thinkers. This week and next week we will work on test prep stuff. I’m going to keep thinking of your wise words…


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