Friday, August 15, 2008

Standardized Tests, Its That Time of Year Again

Around this time of year the results of the last year's standardized tests are released. Often there is much hand-wringing, due to the poor or fair test results of certain ethnic groups. This year has shown improvement in the test results, though gaps are still persistent. This is expected, since test results usually depend upon the mastery of previous material, any gaps in mastery of knowlege from the previous years tends to continue in the future years.

A while back I decided to test my ideas in actual practice, to determine if they are effective under the most difficult of circumstances. I was given that opportunity at a local school in one of the most challenging cities. By luck I was assigned to teach a class for young adults that were unable to pass the high school exit exam on multiple attempts and in some cases they had taken class multiple times, quite a challenge.

I was given 6 students all of whom failed the high school exit exam, specifically the mathematics portion. I was given an analysis of the each student's score separated into different parts according the different portions of the test. So I began to the review the section where most of the students had trouble. As time went one I continuously modified my approach until I found one that worked. I found the following 4 rules to be the most effective approach.

1. Enforce attendance:
If the students are not there you can't help them improve.

2. Make them study in class:
Many of the students are in the class because they never developed the study skills to ensure a passing score on the high school exit exam. Often I assigned homework and reading assignments which they hardly ever completed, so I made them study in class. I determined that many students have to work to help support their families so they don't have much time to study after class, many also lack the discipline to study consistently. As I have said before, by study I don't mean simply starting at a book, or looking at notes, I make studying interactive.

One time I made them memorize 20 geometrical forumulas in class, then I tested them in class. Then I made them memorize the solutions to a complex mathematics problems, then I tested them in class, by asking each student individually to solve the problem on the board as I peppered them with question after question after question. I found that before you can try this you first have to earn the trust of the students. They have to know that you care about their education and that everything you do is for their improvement.

3. Test them everyday: To ensure they pass the test by the end of the class, it is best they get as much experience with the test situation by simulating test conditions as accurately as you can. All you need is a scantron machine, scantron paper, some #2 pencils, and of course practice exams. (Most schools have a scantron machine) Ensure that they improve their score everyday or at least every week, sometimes I give the same test over to determine if they at least memorized the material.

4. Always keep them busy: If they finish with studying or with a test, make sure you have either another test or more material they should study prepared.

There is much room for indpendent initiative to be creative.

John Gonzalez


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