The weather is getting warmer, birds are chirping, it's that time of year for...state testing! Woohoo! Okay, maybe state testing isn't the highlight of my spring, and it's probably not yours either. Tests can be stressful for everyone involved, but I feel equipped to tackle the tests when I have a plan. Here are resources I use with my third graders to prepare for the Virginia SOL tests.
1. Use released SOL tests from previous years with your students
Even though the testing format has changed over time (paper and pencil to computerized to computer adaptive testing), it is still immensely helpful for students to see actual test questions from previous years. When they can successfully answer these questions, it builds confidence and makes the tests less mysterious (i.e. scary). Visit the VDOE website to access released SOL tests.
2. Explain and Practice SOL Question Stems
Sometimes students understand a concept but do not understand what a question is asking. For example, I had to explain to one of my third graders that the phrase "what will most likely happen" meant that they needed to make a prediction. In this case, it was on what would happen after the end of the story. I told her to reread the ending and think about what would happen next. Once she understood what the question was asking, she could easily identify the correct answer. This VDOE document has sentence stems for 3rd grade Reading SOLs that you can use for practice. The more you use and explain these phrases in class, the more comfortable your students will be with the "testing language."
3. Assess and Review Specific Standards with Quick Checks
This VDOE page has quick checks for every single math standard from Kindergarten through Algebra II. Each quick check has about five questions so they should truly be a quick way to assess students' understanding of a concept. Give one a week and pull students who struggle into a remediation group. Or partner students up and have one student explain their solutions to the other student.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice!
In my experience, one can never have too many reading passages during testing season. Students can work on passages with partners or in small groups, sharing their ideas and settling on an answer together. Passages can also be sent home as homework, used in small groups, or used in mini lessons to model testing strategies. I created two sets of reading passages to give my third grade students focused practice with SOL reading standards. Each question was worded carefully, mimicking the wording of SOL question stems. I created a set of fiction passages (realistic fiction, poem, fable, letter) and nonfiction passages (informational text, instructional text, flyer, recipe) that you can find on my TpT store.
5. Model Test Taking Strategies
I used to roll my eyes at the phrase I just wrote. If kids know the material, what other strategies do they need? Don't "teach to the test!" Once I became a third grade teacher, however, I better understood what test taking strategies really looked like. Tell students they MUST read all the answers and discuss WHY some answers are not the best answer. This resource provides codes students can write beside an answer choice to indicate why it is not correct. For example, DMS = Doesn't Make Sense. If a student uses that code, ask them to explain WHY it doesn't make sense. Discuss, discuss, discuss while you can!
We also ask students to highlight either where they found their answer in a text or the clues from the text that helped them figure out an answer. This encourages students to look back in the text, but also helps them slow down. Yes, our computer testing program has an online highlighting tool! Not as fun as real highlighters, in my opinion, but the strategy transfers to the online platform.
6. Encourage and Motivate on Test Day
Leave a sweet treat on student desks, handwrite a note in dry erase marker, and help students relax on the morning of a test with these motivational coloring pages. Check out one of the templates below!
Good luck on test day! You've got this!