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Standardized Reading Testing

1170196_bookcaseI have a very simple question for the language arts teachers out there.

A little background first
When I was in school and took the TAAS reading exams (as well as the SAT), I quickly discovered that I am a fairly slow reader. I also don’t get a lot of the specific details when I read a passage. I have since worked on developing that skill and have made some definite progress.

What I learned worked best for me was to read the questions before I read the specific passages. This way I could skim through the assigned passages and know what I was looking for. Sometimes the questions were so specific that they didn’t require any reading of the passages at all. Things such as “What does the word prolifirate” mean in paragraph 4?

Back to the question
When I administered the TAKS Reading Test a couple of weeks ago to 8th graders, I noticed that every single one of them read the entire passage before even attempting to chack out what the questions were. They also highlighted everything like nobody’s business. Many even going so far as to color in the pictures with their highlighters.

So the question I have is: How many of you teach kids to check the questions before reading the assigned passages? If you don’t, what do you see as the problem with this approach?

For clarification, I don’t tell any of my kids to skip the reading passages since I’m not their language arts teacher, but it is something that has sort of confused me for years as I watch students struggle with these things.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

6 thoughts on “Standardized Reading Testing

  1. Hi there,

    I’ve been a high school English teacher for 4.5 years now. I teach them to read the questions first and to look for key words that make it obvious if they even need to read the passage.

    I teach them a cool way of reading an essay prompt so they don’t get lost.
    1. Underline all the verbs
    2. Make a T chart; label it verbs/word that follows verb
    3. fill in chart

    The result is a clear list of what they DO and how to do it.

    I don’t do nearly enough test prep as I should but another thing I’ve been doing all last week to prep for the CAHSEE is grammar activities that I found at I read the question aloud and think aloud my process of elimination and figuring out the answers.

    I hope SOME of this helps them… and even you :)

  2. What you are doing is having the students set a purpose for reading, which is a good strategy for any text. I tell the students to do the following (and model this when I read):

    1. Set a purpose,
    2. Underline only 1-2 phrases per paragraph,
    3. “chunk and chew” (which is keeping a running summary of 2-3 words beside each paragraph creating a mini-index for finding information later),
    4. connect any text features to the text (graphics, charts, etc.), and
    5. use evidence from the text (quotations, paraphrasing, etc.) with every written response.

    This is just a minimum list, but there are many other strategies to use.

  3. I just want to say thank you for this post and comments. I am a preservice teacher, and on Friday of this week I doing test prep with a class of eighth graders. The classroom teacher provided a passage from the practice test for me to work through with the class. Your perspectives have been very helpful to me! Thanks :)

  4. We use a system called BURBBREE (with a check and a smiley face on bottom. While as adults I think that looking at questions first helps some of my lower readers would just guess on the questions if they read them first. They write the BUR…… on each passage and cross off as do each one.

    B-Bubble directions )
    U-underline title. Circle important words (undelined)
    R-read 1st time and put 1 dot for eye of smiley face
    B-book —in book question (test) or in my brain
    B-brain——->for this is it is basically QAR the questions
    R-reread the passage 2nd time then put second dot (also underline answers that they can remember)
    E-eliminate silly answers (this is were they go back and underline answers and put ? # and put Paragraph where found
    E-Evalute does it make sense? IF so do 2 finger check to see all bubbles answered and put check mark
    Finish smiley face (this is their contract they did stategies)

    i know this seems alot for 3rd but after practicing allllll year they did this w/o looking at poster for what each was and our scores increased significantly since last year on practice tests (and final one too).

    This came from a 5th grade teacher at our school and we adopted it in 3rd since she used to teach 3rd. (Thanks Debbie!)

  5. You’re right, Tina. It does seem like a lot for 3rd graders. I guess the real key to this discussion seems to be the grade level.

    For example, you can trust high school students to better handle “read the questions before you read the passage” more than you can trust 3rd graders to do the same thing. The older students get, the more autonomous they get as well.

    In all of the strategies, are they presented as “This is the way to do it” or are they presented as “These are some suggestions for how you might successfully approach these tests?” Kind of like, we practice the BURBBREE method all year long and when it comes to the tests, you either use it or don’t?

    I understand that such a proposition could be risky for a teacher, as it requires a lot of faith in the students knowing what they’re doing. So I guess the next question is, what do you do if you see a student who is not following your method? During practice exams, do you correct them? What about during the “real” test?

    Does anyone else feel like practice exams might be counterproductive, even to a certain degree?

  6. I have taught for many years and been very successful having my students pass reading tests. I used to have them read the questions first, but noticed that main idea and summarization were the most often missed questions. I began having them read the entire passage first. This seemed to help those who were missing the main idea and summary questions. It helped so much that I doubt I can ever be convinced to do it any other way.

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