I always try to learn something from even the most trying situations. For example, I recently had a root canal, which I generally find to be rather painful. So this time, as the dentist dug in elbow-deep, I tried a meditation technique. I stared intently at a crack in the ceiling while visualizing soothing waves washing over a serene white beach. It still hurt like a bitch, but at least now I know that meditation is of little value when a large man is shoving pointy metallic instruments into your gums. Next time, I bring whiskey.
Today, as I settled into day two of my five day sentence in ELA grading hell, I focused my mind on learning something from the experience. I don't often focus my mind without something breaking loose, and it did today. I discovered three sure fire ways to make sure your kids ace the exam and boost your TDR scores. Here they are:
1. Make sure your class is NOT graded on day one. Break into the scorer's room, if you have to. You see, all scorers are trained for hours, using model answers that no actual child would write. When the real exams come out, teachers scrutinize each answer with great care, picking everything apart with a critical eye. If the answer did NOT appear on one of the training examples, it gets down graded. By day two, scorers no longer care what the answers are. If they seem vaguely correct, they are awarded points. TRUE FACT: After telling us all day yesterday that a particular answer was unacceptable, the people running the show decided that the answer was acceptable after all. Of course, we could not go back and give credit to all the students who had given the answer yesterday, so only those tests scored today will get the benefit. So, after all your hard work preparing your students with the utmost care, you may end up jobless and homeless, subsisting on nothing but discarded pizza crusts, when your TDR plummets just because it was graded on day one. You've been warned.
2. Next year, make sure that your students know that spelling, grammar, and punctuation do not count on the reading exam--they only count on the writing exam. For example, if the question asks "How did Johnny feel when his sister dropped the anvil on his foot?", a response like "jonee feldded terrybull wen da Anville wuz droppted on hiz fout" gets full credit. This is not a joke.
3. Learn about noise. "Noise" is the new buzzword in ELA scoring. Simply put, it means that scorers should search for the right answer, and if it is anywhere in the response, that makes the entire answer correct, because all the rest is considered "noise". So, using our example of poor Johnny above, if the student answers "Johnny felt good wonderful spiritual proud brave silly selfish foolish ignorant bad", the answer would be correct because the student threw the word "bad" in there, which makes the entire answer correct. All the other choices were noise. What we now call "noise" is what we used to call "wrong". So make sure your students write as many words as possible, as one of them may turn out to be correct.
Imagine if they did this in math. If they asked "What is 2+2?" a student could answer " 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, tuna fish" and be correct because the answer contained a 4.
I hope this helps lessen your test taking anxiety. Next year, when you are teaching test prep and a child in your class stares at a crack in the ceiling, resist the temptation to clock said child across the cranium with a blunt object. Just relax, take a deep breath, and work on those three steps I've told you. Jabbing the child in the gums with something pointy is optional.