Do Standardized Tests Create Innovative Thinking?

Do Standardized Tests Create Innovative Thinking?

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 This is a great cartoon.  You can double click on it to read it better.  It really does speak the truth today about what is going on in schools.  We have all of these tests and honestly most of them are lame.  Why are they lame, because they don't give us the information we need in order to effectively instruct our students.

When I was teaching in the classroom I remember the test results coming about 4 months after the kids had taken the test.  By that point the information that I could glean from the test, if I didn't know that information, then I shouldn't be teaching in the first place.  I should always know how well my students can perform during certain activities.

This leads me to the second part.  If standardized tests are not useful for teachers who are teaching kids, then maybe they are developing skills that kids need. Nope, they certainly don't accomplish that either.  We don't think in A, B, C answer choices.  Which makes this cartoon so funny.

As a student in the elementary, middle school, and high school years I did an absolute horrible job on all of my standardized tests.  I was put into the lowest performing classes and dumbed down to because my brain didn't know how to process multiple choice test.  However, the most amazing thing happened for me once I got my Master's degree.  The school that I attended dropped any kind of paper test and only used essay writing to determine what you knew and what you didn't know.  As a result, I ended up graduating with a 4.0.  Now, I know that not everyone can communicate well through writing, but this fit more with my style to show what I knew.

I was working in the school system when I was getting my Master's Degree and during that time I learned how to teach kids to take multiple choice tests.  Now, I know that these tests are not going away, so I will share some of the tips regarding multiple choice tests in reading that I have learned.  By the way, I now can do very well on multiple choice tests as a result.

1.  There is always one throwaway answer.

2.  Two answers are always good answers, but only one is the best.

3.  If you are reading a passage, read the questions ahead of time (not the answer choices) to get your brain thinking about what you are going to get tested on.

4.  Go back to the passage and find your answer if you are stuck or not sure of the answer.

5.  Never leave a question blank, always fill in one bubble even if you don't have time to finish.  You will have a 25% chance of getting it right if you at least fill in one vs. skipping it.

How did you do with multiple choice tests when you were in school?  Does your child struggle with taking them?  What are your thoughts about standardized tests?  I would really love to hear your opinion on the matter.




It all Starts with the Right Reading Assessments Part II

It all Starts with the Right Reading Assessments Part II

Yesterday we took a look at assessments for rhyming, blending sounds, and segmenting sounds.  Today we are going to take a closer look at FILE00~4letter names, letter sounds, phonics patterns, and sight words.

Letter Names

There are some things that you need to keep in mind when it comes to identifying letters in the alphabet.  First, being able to sing the alphabet song does not mean that your child knows the alphabet, it just means that she can sing the alphabet song.  Being able to identify each of the letters in random order, which is the way that we see it in books, is a more advanced skill.  So you want to make sure that your child can do this.  Also, you want to make sure that your child can recognize both the capital letters and the lowercase letters.  Some people will just use the refrigerator letters and think that their child can recognize them all.  Some capital letters are different shapes than the lowercase letters.

You will want to have a system for recording which letters your child knows immediately and which letters she still needs help with.  here is a free  letter assessment that you can record on.  The child that you are assessing will look at the uppercase letter naming powerpoint and tell you the name of the letters while you record the ones that she is able to read with a check and the ones she has difficulty with as the letter she names it.  Then you can repeat the process for the lowercase letters.

Letter Sounds

This is invaluable information because once you know the letters that your child is having difficulty with identifying, then you can begin focusing your instruction specifically on those letters.  Next, you will want to take a look at what letter sounds your child knows.  Again, you will want to record the sounds that she is able to read correctly with a check and write the incorrect sound the child says for incorrect ones on this form.  For this assessment you can use the lowercase letters powerpoint above.  Since kids will usually see letters in lowercase form, it is more important to test them using lowercase letters versus using the uppercase letters.

Phonics Patterns

In Phonics the Easy Way you and your child are going to learn about 6 of the most common patterns that exist in the English language.  Those patterns are called closed, open, silent e, bossy r, two vowels, and c +le.  The purpose of the next assessment is to find out which of these patterns your child already knows.  You have free access to the PowerPoint and the recording sheet.

All of the words on this assessment are nonsense words because psychologists have found that assessing nonsense words actually helps you to be able to see what a child does when she is reading an unknown word.  You can see if the child is reading the word quickly or sounding out each letter and putting together the sounds.  You will also be able to learn if the child knows when the vowel sound makes it's long sound or it's short sound.

The easiest pattern to read is the closed pattern.  If the child has difficulty with reading words from this pattern, then you will want to discontinue the assessment.  There is no need to further frustrate the child when she is not able to do the easiest task.

Sight Words

It is important to have a few words that are just memorized so that your child is able to read complete sentences.  Sight words are words that appear frequently in text.  Some examples are the, you, and was.  These lists are broken down into grade level appropriate words.  Pre-primer words are words that kids in the middle of kindergarten need to know and Primer words are words that kids at the end of kindergarten need to know.  The rest of the words are broken down by grade level.

1.  Pre-Primer 

2. Primer

3.  First Grade

4.  Second Grade

5.  Third Grade

6.  Fourth Grade

7.  Fifth Grade

8.  Sixth Grade

9.  Middle School

If a child is able to read 18-20 words on a list, then those words are at the child's independent reading level.  If the child is able to read 14-17 words correctly, then this is the level that you should be instructing the child at.  Reading less than 14 words correctly on a list puts those words at the frustration level.  If the child is at the independent level for a list, then you automatically test her in the next grade level of words.  Keep testing the child until you reach a level that is at frustration.

These basic assessments will give you a fantastic idea of what your child's reading level is.  You will know which phonics skills she has mastered and which ones she needs instruction in.  Now that we have base level data we will learn how to teach each of these skills for the rest of the month.

Which areas of reading does your child seem to struggle with the most? Do you have strategies that have helped her with developing the skills she needs or are you looking for strategies that can increase her reading ability?  Let me know in the comment section below.

It All Starts with the Right Reading Assessments Part I

It All Starts with the Right Reading Assessments Part I

For the next month you are going to get the first peak at my program called Phonics the Easy Way.  All of the content will be shared on these

pages and you will learn everything that you need to know about teaching children phonics.  Our English language can be quite complicated, so it is going to be my goal to demystify this complicated process into small bits and pieces that are easy to understand.

It all starts with assessment, but not just any kind of assessment.  It starts with specific assessments that meets the needs of your child.  Another name for this is diagnostic assessment.  For instance, if you know that your child knows all of the letters of the alphabet, then it would be fruitless to test this skill.  Here is a list of skills to think about that children need in order to learn how to read.

1.  Rhyming

2.  Blending sounds

3. Segmenting sounds

4. Letter names - Capital and Lowercase

5. Letter sounds- lowercase

6. Sight Words

In order to be ready to read it helps to be able to do most of these skills.  Rhyming, Blending sounds without letters and segmenting sounds without letters fit into the phonemic awareness category.  These are prereading skills that help a child to start learning about the reading process.

Our brain is a pattern detector.  One of the first reading patterns that we develop is the ability to rhyme.  Later on kids will be able to use their knowledge about words they know to figure out new unknown words.  Kids that are in 2nd grade and are unable to produce rhymes and identify rhymes are at risk for reading at grade level.  So whether your child is just starting out in reading or is struggling with reading, you will want to check if they are able to produce and identify rhymes.  Here is a rhyming assessment I have created that you can use.

Another phonological skill that is useful for kids to master is blending sounds with out letters.  This is not an activity that is done with letters, it is only done with sounds.  For example, if I said /c/ /a/ /t/, then you would put it together and make the word cat.  Once one adds letter to this activity it becomes a more advanced skill.  So, in the beginning it is important to do this without any letters.  Here is a blending sounds assessment to identify if this is a skill that your child has mastered.

A more difficult task is to give the child a word and have her tell you each of the sounds.  This activity is called segmenting sounds.  Sometimes a child will get just the first sound and not the rest of the word.  This will count as a point for the child.  Here is a segmenting sounds assessment that you can use with your child.

Rhyming, blending, and segmenting are some of the pre-reading skills that kids need to master before they can learn to read.  These skills will help them with the more complicated tasks they will be required to do once they start putting letters and sounds together to make words.  If your child has not mastered one of these skills, then you will want to provide instruction in that area and reassess once you think that your child has mastered it.

Have you ever known a child that has struggled with these skills?  What was your experience.  What are some things that you did to help him/her to master them? Tell me about it in the comments section.

Tomorrow we are going to begin to take look at letter name, letter sounds, and sight word assessments.  You will also learn how to do ongoing assessment to determine how much each child has learned and if the instruction that you are providing is working.