Strategy Set 2: Sensible Test Prep
from Thomas Herdtner
Director, Florida Connections Academy
Public virtual school students are required to participate in their stateâ€™s high stakes standardized test program like any other public school students. At Florida Connections Academy, we have developed a number of strategies to help prepare our students for the tests. Previously, we looked at the importance of the standards. In this installment, weâ€™ll focus on test preparation
- Provide test preparation materials and activities that help virtual school students become more comfortable and familiar with the formatting of the high stakes test. There are many â€œtest preparationâ€ materials produced by a variety of publishers. Many of these materials can be found by doing a search of the web. You can even find programs that are aligned with a particular stateâ€™s standards and high stakes test. While these programs are excellent tools to help students prepare for high stakes tests, it is unlikely that the students will be able to actually take the high stakes test on-line or even a computerized version. These just do not yet exist, although some states have tried these on a trial basis. Therefore, it is important that virtual school students have access to paper/pencil versions of test prep materials. This, in itself, presents another logistical problem. Most of the paper/pencil test prep materials are designed for use in a classroom setting under the face-to-face guidance of a certified teacher. In fact, the state department of education often provides the brick and mortar schools with paper/pencil practice tests that go directly to the school districts and are then sent on to each school, with one answer key per classroom. Having virtual students located in many different areas of a state makes it distribution of these practice materials a challenge, but the department of education should still provide the virtual school with access to these materials. They may even be available on the DOE website so families can download and print them out to use at home. There are a few commercial test-prep publishers that do have a self-contained â€œtake-homeâ€ version of materials that can be easily used by your virtual school families. A quick check of the websites of various test prep publishers will provide you with the materials available.
- Test preparation is important, however ... While test preparation materials are useful in helping your virtual school students become more â€œtest sophisticatedâ€ regarding the formatting, structure of questions and answer recording procedures for the high stakes test, the real key to success lies in the yearlong presentation of the standards to be tested. Donâ€™t fall into the trap of waiting until the last few weeks before the high stakes test and then present a last minute push to have your virtual school students prepare. The last minute â€œcrashâ€ writing and math clubs, and â€œpre-test pep ralliesâ€ so common in traditional brick and mortar schools, in reality, create additional test stress and fear among students and teachers. Build test preparation activities into the curriculum so that it becomes a natural part of the learning experience for your virtual school students and not something to be feared each year.