State testing is underway at many schools across Colorado. In BVSD, most of the assessments begin March 19 for grades 3-8. See full testing schedule HERE.
While Boulder Valley School District is encouraging students to participate this year -- our teachers are not preparing by “teaching to the test.” Instead, they’re continuing to focus on building students’ 21st Century Skills, knowing that expertise in critical thinking and resilience will serve students well during not only the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), PSAT or SAT, but more importantly when they graduate and pursue the college or career pathway of their choice.
“We informally begin preparing for state assessments from the very first day of school when we talk to our students about habits of mind such as creative problem solving and persevering, even when problems seem very difficult,” explained Louisville Middle School math teacher Bethany Konz.
Paul Moore, a fourth-grade teacher says the approach is similar at his school, Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette.
“As a grade level team we spend a great deal of time across subject areas working with our students to build skills which speak not only to state testing but also best academic practices in general,” said Moore. “We understand that to be successful everyday mathematicians in today's world requires strong foundational knowledge and skills and the ability to employ flexible thinking and problem solving.”
Konz and Moore say teaching the required standards is not enough. They both work with students so that they understand ways to approach and accurately solve problems.
“For example, 6th graders learn how to find the area of triangles. When they approach a problem asking them to find a triangle's area, we want them to understand what the problem requires, have a viable strategy, be able to check the reasonableness of their answers, and have the perseverance needed to complete a problem,” Konz said.
“As we tell our students it is vital to be able to first ‘show you know’ the material that is being covered, and ‘show you care’ by crafting responses which speak to best writing practices,” Moore added.
Over the course of the year, BVSD teachers also sprinkle in strategies that will help them in stressful situations, including test taking (and job interviews).
“Every time we take a test, we talk about test taking strategies like carefully reading the question, showing work, and checking your answer so these behaviors become routine,” said Konz.
“[At Peak to Peak], we work with students to develop understanding of how to annotate testing materials and employ test taking best practices such as skipping questions, eliminating wrong options, reviewing testing material for accuracy and completeness before submission, employing relaxation skills, etc. Finally, we also look at the critical reading practices to help students unlock what the questions and prompts are asking of them and what the text material is saying,” Moore added.
Linda Taht, a fourth-grade teacher at Douglass Elementary School in Boulder, also works with her students on stress-reduction strategies:
“First, and most important, is helping them to relax about the testing. We do brain breaks, yoga exercises, breathing techniques, and reminders about how the data is used (with an emphasis on the fact that I use it to help me teach them in a better way...and that the tests cannot hurt them - so many elementary-age students are afraid they may not pass fourth grade if they ‘fail’ the test. So helping to reassure them that this is not the case is important),” Taht said.
Taht added “it's important to note that I do not "prep" my kids for a test. I consider high-level instruction throughout the year to be the best way to prepare students for anything, [such as] advancement to the next grade level or a taking any type of test. I design my instruction based on two things: what do my students need to know and be able to do (using district and state standards to guide this instruction); and what do my students already know (so I can determine what to teach, how, when, and to whom). This is where differentiated instruction is so important.”
“Ultimately we want students to go into the test feeling confident and prepared so they can do their best,” Konz said.
State tests are just one data point
While BVSD readily admits that the state’s assessments are not perfect, they do provide the school district with an important data point that is used in a variety of ways. At a district-level, the tests provide an apples-to-apples comparison with other Colorado school districts. This is used to determine whether our curriculum and instructional practices are working, helping to direct resources and professional development.
Our teachers receive valuable information about the performance of our students, allowing them to individualize supports for each child.
“As teachers, it is important that we look at our students' data to see how we can tailor our instruction to best meet the needs our students,” Konz said. “I am a self-declared data nerd and I really enjoy combing through assessment data whether is be from CMAS, middle to high school math transition assessments, or iReady reading scores. CMAS tests are just one piece in a body of evidence used to create a picture of students' strengths and areas of growth, and when we have a large representation of data from our students, we can begin to look for trends that help us inform our teaching.”
“State testing data is an important part, but not the only data point that we as a team use to assess student achievement,” added Moore. “This data along with internal testing results, and anecdotal observations, and results from other outside educational resources are triangulated to help us to paint a clear picture of student achievement, strengths, point(s) of need, etc.”
Learn more about about why BVSD is encouraging students to Take the Test on our website or read Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s letter about the assessments.