Throwback Thursday Extra-Test Prep

As the standardized testing season approaches, we present readers a special edition of Throwback Thursday featuring one of our more popular posts. Here, Beth Curran addresses common questions and misconceptions on the topic of Test Preparation. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to welcome their annual opportunity to “show what they know.”

 


Test Prep: Is it really necessary?

Originally published February 16, 2017

For many, Spring brings with it those two dreaded words: standardized tests.

Whether your school is required to take PARCC, Smarter Balanced, state mandated standards-based tests or ERBs, you inevitably will want to make sure your students are prepared.  Many teachers will plan to block out two to three weeks prior to the testing dates to review and teach content that may not have been covered, but is this interruption to instruction necessary?

It’s estimated that students and teachers lose an average of 24 hours of instructional time each year administering and taking standardized tests.  This doesn’t include time taken out of the instructional day for test prep so that number may even be quite higher.

Q: But, I need to review to make sure my students remember concepts taught at the beginning of the year.

 A: Not if you have been teaching to mastery.

Teaching math with a mastery-based program that is rich in problem-solving may all but eliminate the need for any test prep or review.  If your students have a solid foundation in the basics and have practiced applying that knowledge to solving problems throughout the school year, then nothing a standardized test can throw at them should be unachievable. With a cohesive curriculum, where concepts build on each other, your students have essentially been revisiting concepts throughout the year. So, trust in what your students have learned and skip the review.

Q: What about going over topics that I haven’t covered yet?

A: How much success have you had cramming for an exam?

If material is thrown at students for the sake of a test a few things can happen.

  • Students won’t retain information. If students have not been given enough time to progress through the concrete-representational-abstract phases of learning, they will likely not be able to recall concepts or apply those concepts to the unfamiliar situations they might encounter on the standardized test.
  • Students will be stressed out. They will feel the pressure (that unfortunately, you are likely feeling as well) to get a good score on the test. Learning becomes just something to do for a test.
  • You will get false positive results. Have you ever had the teacher in the next grade up comment that students couldn’t remember a concept that you know you taught? Or, better yet, had test scores reflect learning, but students couldn’t perform at the next grade level? That can be a result of concepts being taught too quickly.

So, rather than block out a few weeks to cram in topics that you haven’t covered, try integrating them into other areas of your day. Do some data analysis in morning meeting. Add some questions about telling time to your calendar activities. Play with measurement and geometry during recess (The weather is getting nice, right?).

If you follow the sequence in your well-thought-out curriculum and teach some of those missing concepts after testing, it’s ok. Your students will experience those concepts in an order that makes sense and will be able to make connections, apply their thinking and master those concepts. That mastery will stay with them into the next year and will be reflected on upcoming standardized tests.

After all, we don’t stop teaching after standardized tests.  Well… that’s probably a topic for another post.

photo courtesy of Alberto G.

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Singapore Tops TIMSS 2015!

The 2015 Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) results were recently published. Students in fourth and eighth grades from more than 40 countries worldwide participated in the most recent test. This test marks a 20-year span of comparative mathematics and science achievement data collected and once again East Asian countries topped the charts.

What does the TIMSS test?

The TIMSS tests students’ math and science knowledge. For the sake of this post, we are going to focus on mathematics. Both content domains (Number, Geometry, and Data) and cognitive domains (Knowing, Applying and Reasoning) are tested every four years.  Student achievement is then compared to other participating countries.  Singapore’s students once again ranked number one in the world, marking the fifth time Singapore has scored highest on the TIMSS  since the country first participated in 1995.  Students in the United States trail students in Singapore by 79 points for fourth grade and 103 points for eighth grade.

TIMSS Results for Select Countries – Fourth Grade Mathematics

1995 2003 2007 2011 2015
         
Singapore 625 (1) 594 (1) 599 (2) 606 (1) 618 (1)
Hong Kong-SAR 587 (4) 575 (2) 607 (1) 602 (3) 615 (2)
Republic of Korea 611 (2) 605 (2) 608 (3)
Chinese Taipei 564 (4) 576 (3) 591 (4) 597 (4)
Japan 597 (3) 565 (3) 568 (4) 585 (5) 593 (5)
Russian Federation 532 (9) 544 (6) 542 (9) 564 (7)
England 513 (16) 531 (10) 541 (7) 542 (9) 546 (10)
United States 545 (11) 518 (12) 529 (11) 541 (11) 539 (14)
Average* 529 545 500 500 500

* International Average in 1995 and 2003, Scale Average since 2007

How challenging are the questions?

The questions on the TIMSS can be broken down into four levels, or benchmarks; Advanced, High, Intermediate and Low. The examples below are from fourth-grade problems.

A low-level question tests basic mathematical knowledge:

Percentage of students able to answer a low-level question: 99% Singapore, 98% U.S.

 

An intermediate level question tests the ability to apply basic mathematical knowledge in simple situations:

Percentage of students able to answer an intermediate level question: 93% Singapore, 79% U.S.

 

A high-level question tests the ability to apply mathematical knowledge and understanding to solve problems:

Percentage of students able to answer a high-level question: 80% Singapore, 47% U.S.

 

An advanced level question tests the ability to apply knowledge and understanding in a variety of relatively complex situation and to explain mathematical reasoning:

Percentage of students able to answer an advanced level question: 50% Singapore, 14% U.S.

To sum it up, students in the U.S. are really good at solving basic computation questions but struggle with applying their knowledge to solve problems in high and advanced level questions.

For more information about the TIMSS and a complete report, visit http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2015/.

How does Singapore do it?

In a nutshell, a Singapore Math curriculum focuses on deep conceptual understanding and problem-solving with an emphasis on the “why” over the “how” of math.  Concepts are introduced, practiced to mastery and immediately applied to solve both familiar and novel problems. Students are given ample time to grapple with problems to find multiple solutions which develops flexibility with numbers and logical thinking.

In contrast, traditional curricula in the U.S. has tended to focus on memorization and procedures. “Ours is not to reason why; just invert and multiply.”  Math has been taught as a series of steps to follow to tackle what appear to be unrelated concepts. Many concepts are taught per grade level with little time to practice and master before moving on to the next concept; often referred to as a spiraling curriculum. This limits deep mathematical understanding.

What can we do?

There’s still hope. There are a few curricula in the U.S. that follow the Singapore math approach to deepening mathematical understanding and problem-solving.  You can read more about Primary Mathematics and Math in Focus here.

If you are not in a position to change your curriculum, you can integrate some of the best strategies from Singapore into your current curriculum.  Take time to teach basic concepts to mastery, focus on developing number sense with mental math activities and help students to visualize word problems with bar modeling.

Each year more and more schools, school districts and home-schooling parents are making the switch, but just buying new textbooks is not enough. Professional development and teacher training is an often overlooked piece of the puzzle. (That’s where Math Champions comes in. For information on how we can help you use Singapore Mathematics,  please complete the form or send us an email.)

 

Source: TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics. Copyright © 2016 TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, and
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Test Prep: Is it really necessary?

For many, Spring brings with it those two dreaded words: standardized tests.

Whether your school is required to take PARCC, Smarter Balanced, state mandated standards-based tests or ERBs, you inevitably will want to make sure your students are prepared.  Many teachers will plan to block out two to three weeks prior to the testing dates to review and teach content that may not have been covered, but is this interruption to instruction necessary?

It’s estimated that students and teachers lose an average of 24 hours of instructional time each year administering and taking standardized tests.  This doesn’t include time taken out of the instructional day for test prep so that number may even be quite higher.

Q: But, I need to review to make sure my students remember concepts taught at the beginning of the year.

 A: Not if you have been teaching to mastery.

Teaching math with a mastery-based program that is rich in problem-solving may all but eliminate the need for any test prep or review.  If your students have a solid foundation in the basics and have practiced applying that knowledge to solving problems throughout the school year, then nothing a standardized test can throw at them should be unachievable. With a cohesive curriculum, where concepts build on each other, your students have essentially been revisiting concepts throughout the year. So, trust in what your students have learned and skip the review.

Q: What about going over topics that I haven’t covered yet?

A: How much success have you had cramming for an exam?

If material is thrown at students for the sake of a test a few things can happen.

  • Students won’t retain information. If students have not been given enough time to progress through the concrete-representational-abstract phases of learning, they will likely not be able to recall concepts or apply those concepts to the unfamiliar situations they might encounter on the standardized test.
  • Students will be stressed out. They will feel the pressure (that unfortunately, you are likely feeling as well) to get a good score on the test. Learning becomes just something to do for a test.
  • You will get false positive results. Have you ever had the teacher in the next grade up comment that students couldn’t remember a concept that you know you taught? Or, better yet, had test scores reflect learning, but students couldn’t perform at the next grade level? That can be a result of concepts being taught too quickly.

So, rather than block out a few weeks to cram in topics that you haven’t covered, try integrating them into other areas of your day. Do some data analysis in morning meeting. Add some questions about telling time to your calendar activities. Play with measurement and geometry during recess (The weather is getting nice, right?).

If you follow the sequence in your well-thought-out curriculum and teach some of those missing concepts after testing, it’s ok. Your students will experience those concepts in an order that makes sense and will be able to make connections, apply their thinking and master those concepts. That mastery will stay with them into the next year and will be reflected on upcoming standardized tests.

After all, we don’t stop teaching after standardized tests.  Well… that’s probably a topic for another post.

photo courtesy of Alberto G.

Scridb filter
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