Sunday, March 31, 2013

Released Test Questions - California Standards Test

I am just like you.  Every year, just about this time, my sixth grade students and I start the long arduous process of going over the California Released Test Questions for the CST.  But I knew that somehow this year, I was going to have to mix things up a bit.  As many of you, I also saw the "I Choose 'C'" video that has spread across YouTube (made by an 8th grader, by the way).  So, I showed it to them.  When that many kids in a room identify with something like that, you know it is time for a shake-up.
My students are great test takers.  Sometimes I wonder if they are too good.  I noticed that many of them were going through the motions while we were analyzing similar questions during the year, so this year I tried something new.  In honor of the new Common Core and in honor of making these kids use their brains again, I took the California Released Test Questions and eliminated their choices.  Yes, you read correctly.  I took the choices away.  Well, I did leave a few choices, due to the fact that it is just necessary for some of the released questions.  Now, my students MUST answer them first without options A, B, C, or D.  It forces them to go find the evidence from the text, not just play the elimination game with the four options.  When I have given everyone time to answer the questions and discuss them in groups, only then do I allow them to choose their options.  I have put the choices into a PowerPoint and they use what they wrote, highlighted and underlined to make a choice.
Analyzing Released Test Questions "More Than A Niece"

Analyzing Released Test Questions "Water Picture"

What have I learned from this little experiment?   My kids have all the knowledge they need in their heads, but if they can find a shortcut to avoid using it, they will.  Now, they are having great discussions and they are finding and sharing things they weren't before.  I am getting more out of our time we spend going over the released test questions then I was before.  And of course, it was important to get feedback from my kids.  An easy majority of them said that it was better this way.  They said it was easier, not to so much confusion about second guessing their answers.  I am getting real information about what standards they are more comfortable with and where we should spend a few minutes reviewing or revisiting.  This is not for everyone and it does take time.  But isn't this where common core is heading anyhow?  Finding justifications in the text?  Writing out answers and synthesizing the information presented?  I can easily say that I am glad I took a chance and tried this out.
I would love to hear your strategies for covering Released Test Questions!  What are you doing to make them more engaging and how do you keep your kids thinking, not just test taking?

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