Tips and Strategies for Closing Testing Gaps
We all know that we “should” be using best practices all year that move our students to where they need to be. And we all know we should begin this at the start of the year. But what if you assess your students mid-year only to find your students are nowhere near where they should be? Should you throw in the towel? Or try to cram in as much as possible? Let me tell you – I’ve been there. Quite a few times, to be honest. But it’s not the end of the world. Here are some tips to close those testing gaps and help you get your students as close to where they should be by testing time.
Action Steps to Help Close Testing Gaps
1. Assess to Find Gaps
- Make sure you have a very recent assessment with meaningful data to go off of.
- Use the data to develop a very clear picture of where your students are and identify the gaps each student has.
- You can use one of my benchmark assessments to get a clear picture of gaps.
2. Be very intentional with your time.
- If your situation is like mine was, your students are all over the board with many skills, so it’s hard to know where to focus.
- Look for the skills the majority of your students need reteaching on.
- For these skills, spend very short amounts of time reteaching the whole class. You should try to stay under 10 minutes for each skill.
- Keep in mind that this is a review and some will pick up the skill quickly.
3. Spend the majority of your time in small groups.
- Most of these small groups should be strategy groups, not leveled guided reading groups.
- Break students up by skill goals and reteach and provide support with students in groups of 4-6.
- Before testing, I met with multiple groups per day to ensure I was closing as many gaps as possible.
4. Practice with purpose.
- Provide multiple opportunities to practice with passages and questions that match your state testing model.
- Make sure your students are working with materials that are within the text complexity band for their grade level.
- My Core Comprehension series is perfect for test prep. Each unit is skill-based and each passage contains a certified Lexile level for differentiation. The questions are written to match state tests as well.
- Give students time to practice in small groups.
- Make sure they have meaningful, self-checking resources like task cards.
- These activities are perfect for optimizing your time because you can run centers while you work with strategy groups!
6. Don’t lose the structure.
- Keep your routines and expectations the same!
7. Differentiate your instruction!
- It’s important to balance the requirements for students to understand and be able to apply reading comprehension skills and the requirement for students to be able to read and understand texts in their corresponding text complexity band.
- Make sure you spend time using below-level texts for students who read below grade level so they have the chance to understand the skills, then integrate on-level texts for the same skills.
- This will help students apply reading comprehension skills to text even if the text is above their reading level.
- You can read more about scaffolding n my blog post How to Meet Rigorous Expectations using Scaffolding.
What to Stay Away From when Working to Close Testing Gaps
1. DO NOT: Take a “one size fits all” approach.
- Use data to structure your time efficiently.
- Work with students individually and in groups to fill gaps.
2. DO NOT: Sacrifice otherwise important exercises.
- As testing approachings, it can sometimes feel like closing testing gaps is the only important task.
- Make sure to keep time for important instruction.
- Do not take away time for independent reading. It is important that there always be time for students to read for enjoyment.
3. DO NOT: Do crazy.
- Some teachers or schools try to prepare for testing by doing things like intense “boot camps” or schoolwide drills.
- When I was teaching, our principal made us do these huge boot camps where the entire grade level would be in a big hall and have one lesson together. They were then split up into the classroom with teachers all over the building. This didn’t work because these teachers didn’t know each student and their needs and kids didn’t take the whole thing seriously. It also built up a lot of stress for teachers and students around testing.
- Although mobilizing around a huge strategy may seem productive, it ignores the strengths and weaknesses of each student and misses the opportunity to hone skills on an individual as-needed basis.
4. DO NOT: Put pressure on your students.
- This one is hard. Teachers are pressured to no end. Our evaluation and salary are often based on test scores. School funding is based on test scores. So it is easy to pass this pressure down to your kids.
- There’s no secret weapon for this one. Just remember you’re only human and try your best to things as “normal” as possible.
These strategies will help your students reach their potential during the testing season. Let me know how it goes!