By Matthew Tungate
Educators from across the state say that preparing their students for the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests used for state accountability is making them better teachers.
“The K-PREP test has definitely affected the way I teach this year,” said Leigh Ann Scott, who teaches grades 6-8 English/language arts and 6th-grade social studies at LeGrande Elementary School (Hart County). “I am focusing on each standard until it is mastered. The formatting of the test, however, hasn’t been a huge change for me. I am spending about the same amount of time teaching test strategies for multiple-choice and extended-response questions, but I am focusing more on the short-answer questions, since that is new to the students.”
Scott said teachers need to prepare their students for the test’s format so they can accurately demonstrate what they know.
“If the students aren’t familiar with the format of the test, especially those that have some anxiety with testing, it can throw them, and no matter how well prepared they are, they may not do well,” she said. “It is important to not only give tests (during the year) in the same format as the K-PREP, but to also do daily work in that same format. Since the K-PREP is still somewhat of a mystery in some ways, I have done my best working with what I have.”
Rhonda Orttenburger and Whitney Hamilton teach at Kit Carson Elementary (Madison County) and are part of a reading response study group sponsored by the Eastern Kentucky University Writing Project (EKUWP). The group has been focused on applying the new standards and implementation of researched-based instructional strategies for studying testing as its own reading genre.
Orttenburger said the book Put Thinking to the Test introduced the group to the idea that tests are a genre of their own.
“Considering tests a genre has opened up our thinking to allow more room for instructional strategies that will, hopefully, result in highly-skilled thinkers, readers and writers in our classrooms, thus yielding successful test takers,” she said.
Hamilton said she is using tests as a way to teach reading-comprehension strategies. Students spend a couple of weeks focusing on a reading-comprehension strategy.
“During this time we really get to know the ins and outs of the strategy and become comfortable using the language surrounding it. Students apply the particular strategy in a range of fiction and non-fiction texts,” she said. “Following this week or two of strategy focus we ask ourselves, ‘How can (fill in the name of the comprehension/thinking strategy) help me read tests?’”
“I don’t have to adjust our classroom structure to accommodate ‘test prep’ anymore,” she added. “The only noticeable adjustment is what I choose for students to read.”
Marci Williams, a Cairo Elementary School (Henderson County) 5th-grade math, science and writing teacher, said she is putting time constraints on her tests during the year to mirror the K-PREP tests.
“I am also making sure to consistently practice short-answer type responses,” she added, echoing the comments of several of the other teachers. “These are something new, and I want my students to be comfortable with these type questions.”
Stephanie Sanders, who teaches 7th and 8th grade reading at Page School Center (Bell County), said she has incorporated several new strategies for teaching this year.
“K-PREP and Kentucky’s adoption of the Common Core Standards has entirely affected my instruction this year by changing the way I deliver instruction and how I teach my students to think about what they’ve read,” she said. “I’ve spent more time this school year reading a more diverse selection of texts and instructing my students on the most effective ways to read for information in those texts.”
She said one new strategy aided her students in inferring, summarizing and making generalizations in the text they read.
“This strategy benefited my students when taking their ACT EXPLORE assessment in September and has carried over to their daily reading,” she said. “I use these new strategies on a daily basis with multiple-choice questioning, finding contextual evidence to support writing in short-answer and extended-response assessments.”
Sanders also has been using 3×5 index cards for her students to write their short-response answers in reading class, along with timing her students.
“I give them a minute for each multiple choice question they have to answer. I did this for ACT EXPLORE preparation because it is a 30-minute, 30-question test,” she said. “My students had great success with this strategy on EXPLORE, and I believe because of the new time constraints on K-PREP this will also benefit them.”
Kim Stambaugh, a 3rd-grade teacher at Fairview Elementary School (Fairview Independent), said she is teaching students a variety of problem-solving strategies to accommodate their various learning styles.
“Instead of saying ‘Do it this way,’ I feel we are equipping the kids to do it the way that best meets their needs,” she said.
Williams has her students conducting a wrong-answer analysis, where they identify why they answered questions incorrectly on tests. If it is because they didn’t understand the material, students may use their book or work with a partner or group to correct the mistake.
“The student must work to correctly solve that problem, but then they must show how they got the correct answer, and then explain it as well,” she said. “They must explain the steps as if they are responding to a short answer-type problem.
“Having students dig into their work and take responsibility and ownership for it has really made a difference,” Williams added.
Most of the teachers said the content they are teaching is not very different from last year, though Stambaugh said mathematics has changed the most.
“The things I am teaching the kids in math this year would have been taught at a higher grade level last year,” she said. “As we began to examine the new standards, we realized that the majority of the content was already being covered but it was much more in depth and rigorous. I narrowed the focus and made every lesson, activity, and assignment more challenging.
Sanders said middle school reading is divided into 55 percent literary and 45 percent informational, “which is a dramatic change from the Kentucky Core Content.”
“I have found this school year that my focus needs to be less on literary-based text and more on reading informational texts. I’ve had to really dig deep to find new, beneficial and age-appropriate resources for informational reading,” she said. “Now, literature books aren’t just enough for reading class. This change is reflected on the K-PREP assessment, and my students are prepared to not only pick out literary devices but support their claims with contextual evidence.”
Working with the new standards was overwhelming at first, Sanders said.
“Now, after 18 months or so of working with them, I have found I really like its focus, structure and specific requirements,” she said.