Education Chat

Teaching Test-Taking

The authors of Test Talk discussed how to help students succeed on state tests without compromising the commitment to good teaching.

August 7, 2007

Teaching Test-Taking

Amy H. Greene
, a language arts resource teacher and coach at Annandale Terrace Elementary School in Annandale, Va.; Glennon Doyle Melton, a former teacher at Annandale Terrace. They are the authors of Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation Into Reading Workshop.

Scott J. Cech, Associate Editor, Education Week (Moderator):

Good afternoon, and welcome to Education Week’s Live Chat. Joining us live are Amy H. Greene and Glennon Doyle Melton, the authors of “Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation Into Reading Workshop.” (The book can be read free online for a limited time.) In this Live Chat, they will discuss the need for test prep and answer your questions about incorporating test-taking skills while preserving purposeful teaching.

I’m Scott Cech, an associate editor at Education Week, and I’ll be moderating this discussion with Ms. Doyle Melton--a six-year teaching veteran at Annandale Terrace Elementary School in Annandale, Va.--and Ms. Greene, a language arts resource teacher and coach at the same school.

In an upcoming commentary for Education Week, to be published Aug. 15, the authors outline what they’ve learned about raising test scores through careful and thoughtful test preparation for students. Despite the hard work and passion of these educators, their colleagues, and students, their Title I school failed to meet requirements for adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. That’s when they began to discover how to prepare students for testing without resorting to “teaching to the test.”

We’re getting lots of questions already, so let’s get right to them.

Question from Cary Wright, English teacher, Geo. Washington HS, Danville, VA: After browsing through Test Talk, it appears many of your plans and strategies are for younger students. What advice do you have for teachers of high school students?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

First of all, thanks for teaching high school. I think that must be an incredibly challenging job and I have a whole lot of respect for you.

In response to your question, I think you’ll find that the format of the lessons in Test Talk will be as helpful to high schoolers as it is for our little ones. For example, just dedicating one day to passing out sample copies of past tests and letting your students read through them with each other and discuss and highlight the specific formats and vocabulary that confuse them might be very empowering for your students. Standardized tests are written in such formal English... and the format is so different from any other text students read, that just spending some time exploring and demystifying the test can make a big difference. You can also use sample tests to help the students identify ,define, and translate “test talk.” So often we find that our students know the curriculum that is being tested, they just aren’t familiar with the fancy “test talk” that the test writers use.

Perhaps even more importantly, you can use the test to help guide your instruction. By this I mean that you can make sure that you are using “test talk” in your lessons..this way you won’t have to spend so much time translating it for your students later.

Lastly, we know that often our smartest test takers happen to be our smartest readers. Teaching and modeling effective reading strategies across the curriculum, and showing students how to apply these strategies on tests, is something we can do to support our test takers all the way through high school.

Question from Liz Ludgin, teacher: What grade levels do you think will most profit from your book? Do you see this book as a useful resource beyond elemantary and middle school?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

The book will help teachers of any grade who believe that students need to become smart readers and test takers in order to be successful academically and professionally in our country...even if they also believe that testing is a flawed way to assess.

Our book shows how to teach smart test taking in connection with teaching smart reading...they go hand in hand. Since both testing and reading are skills that should be addressed from kindergarten throughout high school, I think Test Talk is a useful resource for all teachers. Our hope in writing the book was that teachers would use our lessons as a starting place, and tweak them to match their own grade and particular students.

Question from Whitney Hoffman, tutor, kennett middle school: Last year, I worked as a tutor in the local middle school, where the remediation was based on poor PSSA scores.I understand we need to teach kids to be smart test takers, but shouldn;t we be more concerned about helping them understand fundamental concepts than the little tricks about eliminating answers and what to do if you are running out of time that might boost your score?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

Absolutely. We agree completely that the “little tricks” are of little use. This is actually one of the premises of our book. We believe that teaching test taking as a skill isolated from the rest of the curriculum,is ineffective. We teach the test as a reading genre...and like any other genre, students need to have a toolbox of general reading strategies as well as test specific reading strategies to navigate and understand it. By teaching test taking in this way, test taking becomes a fundamental concept in itself, just like understanding a mystery or following a recipe are fundamental concepts. And since right or wrong, standardized tests will partly determine our students’ success and opportunities in school and beyond, we think it’s a fundamental skill worth teaching.

Question from Donna, Math Teacher, SC: How can we reconcile “rigorous” standards of students expected to do more advanced math when so many lack basic skills and knowledge? It seems teachers are constantly being told to have “high expectations,” yet are also pressured to pass failing students, thus perpetuating what is truly a cycle of failure.

Amy H. Greene:

Rigor and high expectations are important. Keeping both, while working with needy students can sometimes be a challenge.

As a literacy specialist, I can relate to your basic skills issue. When I’m really worried about a student, I back up and spend time building interest and connection to real life. Then the student has a reason to learn the skills that will push her to solve reading problems independently and understand text at a higher level.

I believe the New York Times addressed the issue of passing failing students last week. As teachers come up against this, I feel we just need to stick with our beliefs. If you are working for a prinipal that doesn’t believe in informing parents when a child is in academic trouble, then you are not working for a principal that matches you. Find a new principal.

Question from Angeline Escamilla, Peer Facilitator, Fisher Elementary: With as many tests that children will have to face/take in their lives, I feel that it is not that terrible to teach test taking strategies. If taught correctly, these skills will be wonderful problem solving skills for future use. I feel where the problem is in todays testing is when those test taking skills are drilled into the children everyday, all day long. Again, if problem solving skills are taught properly, then the actual grade level material can be taught and their new knowledge can be easily applied. Do you agree?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

I think that navigating a standardized test requires a specific set of reading and problem solving skills that need to be taught deliberately and in logical connection with other learning- specifically in the context of a reading workshop, alongside other genres. I think when we stop class five minutes early every day and “drill” students, which seems to be encouraged in more traditional test prep “programs”, we suggest to students that test taking is totally isolated from “real learning,” and that it is just another set of rules and tricks that they better remember on test day, along with all the tested content. We think students feel empowered and do better on test day when they are as comfortable with the test genre as they are when they sit down with a good mystery. Only then can they concentrate on recalling content.

In other words, I think you’re right, Angeline.

Question from Tad Johnston, Mathematics Specialist, Maine Department of Education: When can teaching to the format of a question be a positive support to learning and when it is it negative? For examples, n mathematics I see preparing students to be familiar with mathematical ways of writing and notation as a positive but wonder about strategies to narrow the choices in selected response based solely on item structure rather than mathematical structure. I also wonder how the applies across content areas. Thanks.

Amy H. Greene:

Great question, Tad.

In general, I would say that teaching the specific language for a type of test question can seem limiting. But the key is not memorizing the language for each type. Flexibility is paramount! What might be more powerful is teaching students the POSSIBLE types of language for a particular kind of question AND problem solving unknown or new test language as it occurs.

Discussions in classrooms should require that students produce evidence as to why they believe particular language is tied to a particular type of question. This builds practiced thinking so when they reach a problem on a test, they are ready to consider it in an informed manner.

Question from Sue Borders - retired teacher: State assessments test the state curriculum. Wouldn’t the BEST “test-prep” be for teachers to teach the curriculum for the grade and/or course they are teaching?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

You are right that state assessments test the state curriculum, but they also test reading level, reading strategies, and test taking skills. Every question, regardless of what curriculum it is supposed to be testing, first challenges the student to identify and read the directions, the question, and the answer choices and understand all of them. If a student is not an active reader and is not familiar with the specific format and vocabulary of the test genre, he or she could be cheated out of showing the curriculum he or she knows.

Question from Kay Williams, Principal, Detroit Public Schools: I’ve noticed that the math standards are progressive and rigorous. Perhaps we should continue to make them more rigorous, however, the question is...Is it the math standards that need to be adjusted or our teacher training programs for math education? I find that the standards ask the question...What is it that we want students to know and be able to do? Our curriculum answers that. So, the real question becomes...How do we get teachers and support staff to get children to be active learners in math processes? I have an idea, but would love to hear your responses. Thanks, Mathematically Yours, Kay:0)

Glennon Doyle Melton:

In my experience, the truth has been that students will learn what we teach them...what we know. And the approach to teaching math has changed so dramatically (for the better) from the way most teachers were taught, that I think a lot of us are just a little confused, for lack of a better word.

So to answer your question, “how do we get teachers and support staff to get children to be active learners in math processes?”...I would say we first have to get teachers to be active learners in math processes. We can’t teach what we don’t really understand. Most teachers learned math as a set of rigid rules instead of the amazing way it’s supposed to be taught now, where students are really taught how to explore, construct,deconstruct and manipulate numbers. We have a lot to unlearn and learn...and that takes time and focus.

I think you are right to suggest that perhaps the math standards don’t need to be adjusted so much as teacher training does. If getting students to be active learners in math processes is a priority for a school, then teachers need to be given ample time with experts to learn it, time with colleagues to discuss it, time in the classroom to apply it, and time with parents to explain it. I think it would need to be a year long focus for teachers, not just a one-shot expert lesson at a staff meeting. Neither students nor teachers can understand and apply a new concept after one lesson, even if it’s from an expert.

Question from Maggie Bosch, Second Grade Teacher, Rescue Elementary: I start preparing my second graders test taking strategies the first week of school, such as bubbling in, reading all the material first, eliminating some choices, etc. Is this too much for a seven year old to really be exposed to? I find many of my students do not have the discipline to see the whole picture, especially with grammar and punctuation.

Amy H. Greene:

Great question. I think you are exactly right when you say that this is too much for a seven year old! Way too much.

The first weeks of school (and every other week) should be about falling in love with books, authors, and reading itself. After the class is head over heals with everything related to books, perhaps you might begin teaching your students strategies that will help them develop into strong readers and thinkers and then, as they become more sophisticated about the differences between genres,introduce the strategies specific to tests. Tests are a genre!

In other words, build a literary community, then their background knowledge and THEN connect the new (tests) to what they know.

Comment from katie mitchel, student,capella: How can I get a copy of the transcript since I will not be available for the chat?

This is a subject near and dear tomy heart.

Scott J. Cech, Associate Editor, Education Week (Moderator):

A transcript of this chat will be available on Education Week’s Web site within a day or two:

Question from Sarah Reed, Instructional Coach, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, Kentucky: Why is making the invisible visible so important?

What other ways can be used to get teachers to understand or see that reading strategies are needed through test questions?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

What a great question. The invisible (demands of the test) became visible to us the first time we sat down with a test, answer sheet, and pencil, and attempted to navigate and read the test through our third graders’ eyes. We came to a question that the test writers said would determine whether or not a particular student knew how to find the main idea..that’s all this question was intended to assess. But as we read the passage and the accompanying question, we realized that there were layers and layers of general reading and test taking strategies a student needed to apply first to even have a shot at answering the question about main idea. For this particular question, the students would have to first be able to read fluently on the reading level of the passage, infer, determine importance, understand the conventions of poetry, (it was a poetry passage) visualize, and know enough about the test genre to navigate things like numbered lines and boxed text. The visible strategy was main idea but their were myriad other invisible strategies being tested with each question. This is when we realized that every standardized test was first a reading test, and that we needed to teach the test as the separate genre that it is, and that it needed to be taught in reading workshop in connection with all the other genres so that it would be meaningful to students.

I think the most powerful strategy and administrator could use to “get teachers to understand or see that reading strategies are needed through test questions” is to use a staff meeting to have teachers actually take the test, and to record and discuss all the strategies that are needed to answer each question. Our administrators did this, and it was a pivotal and eye opening meeting for us.

Just make sure to have them take it during meeting time...don’t ask them to do it at home!

Question from Adriane Hughes, teacher, Oakland Military Institute: Considering California’s (in general) level of achievement in high school math, raising standards and rigor doesn’t help the students achieve more. Why raise the bar when the students have trouble getting over it in the first place? Why cause the teachers frustration when the students ask to slow down and the teacher responds, “Well, we have to get through _______ by the end of the year.”?

Amy H. Greene:

Are we supposed to GET THROUGH curriculum or are we supposed to TEACH students to be independent/critical thinkers and problem solvers?

I wonder if California (and many other states) have a common definition and common language of THE BAR. Have there been discussions at the state level, the district level, and the SCHOOL level about expectations?

Perhaps schools and teachers around the country need to take ownership, building by building, of the level of achievement expected, what it will look like at their school, and how they will accomplish this with their students. Then TEACHERS can decide on and hire experts/consultants that cater to their needs. Ownership is more likely to lead to success. Isn’t that what they do in the private sector?

Question from Alex Bishop, VA: What was it like to write this book with a partner? Did you initially agree on everything in the book, or did you have to debate certain topics/ideas before including them?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

Most of our debating was done before we even started the book! Amy and I were colleagues and friends for years before we wrote Test Talk. We taught, researched, experimented in the classroom and developed new testing approaches together, along with the rest of the amazing staff at Annandale Terrace. Together, we had also done many presentations about our ideas to schools in our county, so we knew that our beliefs about students, teaching and testing were in sync.

Writing with Amy, and learning from her and with her has been the most important and fruitful experience in my teaching career. She’s a champion of children, for sure.

Question from Cathy Gagnon, teacher: Why have you included a chapter on Poetry in a book about test taking? How does test taking fit in?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

Since our book’s focus was reading tests, we used our chapters to highlight five “units of study” that are heavily tested on our state’s standardized reading test. Our state reading test emphasizes understanding poetry, which Amy and I also happen to be quite passionate about as readers and teachers. We felt strongly about demonstrating in the poetry chapter that children should be taught to love, feel,and write poetry first, and to understand the conventions of poetry and answer questions about poems second...but that both objectives are appropriate and certainly not mutually exclusive.

Question from Joette Kane teacher Saugerties HS: Any suggestions for the students whose anxiety kicks in and shut down during high stakes exams?

Amy H. Greene:


Anxiety is quite natural and discussion of it should occur just like discussion of any other feeling we might have. As teachers, we can model and role play what we do in stressful situations and ask kids to demonstrate what they do when they are stressed out. Then the students can build a repertoire a strategies to pull out during a test. It won’t relieve all stress but will empower your students to feel that they have some control.

Also, Glennon mentions a great strategy in the book: Forget About It. Check it out.

Question from Kelly Chase, Special Educator, Quabbin Regional: In light of all the research in brain function, different learning modalities, etc., why is it that states do not understand that not all learners show what they know through test taking? Do you envision a time when mastery of knowledge will be assessed using a project based format?

Amy H. Greene:

What a wonderful world it would be, Kelly. Assessing children in a way that most matches their learning style is the way to go. If this was in place, teachers would get REAL information as to what kids understand and don’t understand.

Perhaps states choose multiple choice tests because they are cheap. Hmmm... It’s like assessment of our kids is on sale, instead of choosing the best, which would take more time and money but give us more knowlege about about our students.

Right now, since big decisions are out of our control, we should could use portfolio and project based assessment as much as we can in our classrooms. Informal assessment IS in our control and it informs our instruction more than anything a standarized test can tell us.

Comment from Russell Howard: Rahter than sending a question, I have a comment regarding testing. It is not that testing is bad, it is that we have become so blind to believe that testing will close the gap when in fact it has widened the gap. Although testing does give us a picture of what a child has learned, it is not the only tool we should use. We need to remember that state tests are criteron-references, yet we use the results and report these results in newspapers to determine how districts compare. This in itself is wrong. These scores are published in newspapers without realizing limitations, such as different curriclum and different teaching styles, in some cases where the information may not have been taught as well as it could have been.

Question from Linda M, Reading Specialist, New Hampshire: What is the research that supports instruction in test-taking strategies? Is there evidence that test-taking strategies correlate to success?

Amy H. Greene:

Anytime we have a plan to solve a problem, we feel more successful. Peter Johnston calls this a sense of “agency.”

Since our job is NOT not just handing out the right answer all day, we must build a sense of agency in kids in regards to all content areas and life skills, including test taking.

I have many a fifth grader right down the hall that can give you evidence of learning about the test genre and how it correlates to success.

Question from Alice Pickering, EC Teacher, Meadows Middle School: I find that our entire school revolves around the end of grade tests. We are given a list of test topics that must be covered each week. We have “practice books” that must be used for a full eight weeks before the test. Then, once the test is over (3 or 4 weeks before the school year ends), it is party time. There is no more “school” for the rest of the year. The last month of school, there are movies, picnics, field trips etc. These are not enrichment oriented--just fun. I can’t help but feel that we are cheating our students.

Glennon Doyle Melton:

I can’t help but agree with you. The “practice books” you speak of give me the chills. I think we all, as teachers, know that practice is not preparation-and that we shouldn’t stop authentic teaching to “practice” testing. We have to TEACH test taking. I think perhaps we are just too exhausted to figure out how to teach testing in the meaningful way we teach other subjects...through concrete experiences and attaching the known to the unknown.

Amy and I were lucky enough to have administrators who gave us a good long time to come up with some meaningful ways to teach we don’t end up feeling guilty about compromising our beliefs or our students anymore. I hope the book will help you with that too.

I have to tell you though, Alice, I’m a big fan of end of the year picnics and movies and field trips!

Question from Linda Zambito, pre-service teacher, Ohio: How in WORLD can you compare our system of education with any other country? In other countries, such as Japan, teachers are held in high honor and education is valued. In the U.S., we should be considered to be on the same professional level as doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc., but we are not. We remain under the demeaning cloud of “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” warped mentality prevalent in this society of perpetual entitlement. The ONLY way to have change is to affect change in the mind of this society - a society that, in general, views teachers as over-paid babysitters. How THAT change in mindset can be accomplished should be the forte’ of the country rather than how to outscore other countries in math or subjects.

Glennon Doyle Melton:

I hear and understand your frustration. It does feel that some Americans don’t value teachers as they should. I have come to the conclusion though, that I can’t be responsible for changing America’s collective opinion of teachers because frankly, I’m too busy teaching.

What I can do however, is to value myself as an educator and professional, and to do everything in my power to do my job well- to prepare my students for their world without allowing myself to get distracted or defeated. It has been my experience that when when people see teachers taking their careers and students seriously, they tend to follow suit. Perhaps the question is not “should we work on teaching students or changing America’s mind about teachers?” Maybe the latter goal could be achieved by working on the former.

I must say also, that for every person I meet who seems to undervalue teaching as a profession, I meet three who respect and admire what we do. We as educators, need to be careful about making any type of generalizations, especially negative ones, regarding how society may or may not view teachers and students. Each teacher determines his or her own value and impact, and these attitudes - negative or positive- are contagious.

Question from Dr. Wayne Stephens, Character Development Coordinator, Chicago Public Schools: Many teachers have endorsed both “Key Train” and “Choices Planner” as an excellent tool for post-secondary needs such as developing test-taking skills. What are your thoughts about these websites?

Amy H. Greene:

I am sorry that I am not familiar with these sites but I will say that I am not drawn to anything “gimmicky” or any test taking “program.”

Becoming familiar with the format and strategies needed for the test genre should be part of everyday rigorous instruction.

Question from Kelsey Bierling, English Teacher, Upper Darby High School: As a teacher at a school that is in Corrective Action 2 this coming year, I have watched my content be pared down and test prep be heaped on. Even when the “test prep” is integrated into a lesson, administrators often don’t recognize it as such. How do we, as thoughtful educators, remain true to our craft and duty to our students, while not just outright teaching to the test?

Amy H. Greene:

Sounds tough, Kelsey.

Yes, we must be true to our students AND our craft. One of the ways I have found to remain true to my craft is to become extremely articulate about my craft and the rationales behind it.

If I can sit in room of colleagues or with my administrator and explain how my integrated test prep is serving my students than I have a much better chance of others believing in what I do.

If you administrator still doesn’t get it, than you might want to find one that does.

Question from Karen Green, H. S. math teacher, Community H.S. Milwaukee P.S.: Our students (inner city, poor) either don’t try or become frustrated on standardized tests. Is there a way to provide incentives to get them to do their best?

Glennon Doyle Melton:


Thank you for teaching the students you teach. You have the single most important job in the world.

I think that any student who doesn’t have the skills or basic knowledge that a test requires, whether he is rich or poor, really only has the two choices you mentioned...a) don’t try or b) get frustrated. I can’t really think of any other options, and I feel for these kids, and I know you do.

I don’t know, Karen, what the answer is to this tough question, but I can tell you that I think the most powerful incentive for any kid is the hope of success. I think maybe you and your kids should get down on the floor in a circle, each one of you with a copy of the test, and talk about how tricky and tough this test is, and discuss what parts are particularly tricky, and how you can make them easier together. I think you should practice reading tests, just like you practice reading fiction and chapter books...and you should discuss beating this test together,as a team.

I think you as a teacher should become very familiar with your test’s particular format and “test talk” so that you can drop it into your lessons and your kids don’t have to learn a whole new language at the end of the year.

It sounds like your school has a similar population (socio-economically) to ours at Annandale Terrace. Our kids need a lot from us, don’t they? Thank goodness they offer so much back.

Good luck Karen! THANK YOU for doing what you do.

Question from Carole Morrow Sped teacher, SLOCOE: Recent criticism of the massive testing resulting from NCLB has compared it to totalitarianism, saying the result will be to regulate and restrict thinking. Do you agree?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

No, I think that’s a bit dramatic, honestly. I think that what happens in classrooms, when it comes down to it, depends on the teacher, and I haven’t met many teachers who support teaching kids to stop thinking. We may have to throw is some teaching about testing though.

Question from Daniel Ward, Editor, Language Magazine: Can you offer any advice on how to make test taking more successful for English language learners?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

My classroom was 90 percent ESOL I’m glad you asked this question. There are so many specific ways to help these students conquer tests..the first that comes to mind is being very careful to use to specific language that the test uses. ESOL kids are at a disadvantage on tests because they don’t have flexibility with language yet. If the test is going to ask “What is the main idea” you need to use the term main idea in class,...not mostly about, summary etc...because ESOL kids might not be able to make that language leap yet.

Question from Pam Baglien, gr. 5, Sunnyside Ele.: Half of our testing is now computerized, with state tests moving in that direction as well. How can we provide meaningful practice via the computer in all the areas you reference in your book?

Amy H. Greene:

Wow. The computer adds a whole new aspect to standardized testing.

The good news (I think) is that all tests are reading tests. I know that kids need to learn the skills and strategies on text (in books or on paper) and then talk about how using these strategies will be the same or different using the computer instead of paper. A few trial runs would also help.

Skills and strategies first, then the computer.

Question from Vickie, teacher, Virginia: How can we teach to a test and also make learning meaningful to the students? Most, if not all, of standardized tests require reading and rote memorization of facts rather than critical thinking. How can we include critical thinking skills with test taking skills?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

Such a good question. Amy and I discovered though, when studying the tests, that especially on the reading tests, answering questions sometimes requires synthesizing lots of strategies, knowledge and critical thinking.

Question from diane fee, literacy coach, frost lake ele, saint paul, mn: What test-taking preparation, i.e., test-thinking strategies would you recommend building into Rdg Wrksp as well as Writing Wrkshp at kindergarten-2nd?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

I assume that you teach genre units in your reading workshops, so an easy way to begin integrating testing would be to add a genre study about the test genre. You would just explore the oddities and characteristics that set it apart and allow the students time to practice navigating it as they do with any other genre. This type of unit can be adapted to any level or grade.

Question from Margaret Sorensen, PhD Candidate, Walden University: I have browsed your book and it seems to me the great value of it is that it presents good teaching practice aligned to standards. The test talk is almost incidental--as it should be. Do you think that there is danger--in presenting this as how to teach test taking--of supporting some misconceptions (our kids know the material, they just don’t test well) that are growing an industry of test taking books that really do nothing more than regurgitate released test items and walk through a decision-making process to select the right answer? I see too many of these kinds of options being presented by schools as “intervention,” to students who really may never have grasped the material.

Amy H. Greene:

I agree, Margaret. Test taking practice has replaced fine instruction and learning in many schools. If kids haven’t grasped the material and we are teaching them how to handle the (unlearned)material on a standarized test, we aren’t doing our job, are we?

One way to combat this is to have strong,purposeful informal assessments in place, then we should know if our students understand what we have taught them.

If we don’t know if our students understand what we taught them, shame on us.

Question from Vonita White, educational consultant: What criteria do you use when purchasing support material designed for test practice?

Amy H. Greene:

We don’t purchase test practice material.

Tests are a genre. We teach students the characteristics of the genre, how it is alike or different from other genres students are familiar with, and then teach genre specific strategies for test day.

At the same time, we teach kids to be strong readers and thinkers.

Question from Gail Rosenthal, Reading Specialist, Roxbury Elementary: I teach 5th graders test taking skills and I teach text structures as a starting point. Do you agree or disagree with this idea? If you disagree, where would you begin? thanks!

Glennon Doyle Melton:

I think that teaching the specific format and the specific vocabulary are equally important, so starting with structure is fine, as long as it is introduced in connection to something the students have learned previously.

Question from Megan Maher, Professional Development Specialist, ADEA: How can you maintain best practices in assessment(authentic assessment, differentiated assessment, etc.) and still support students in their success on standardized tests?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

You can teach test taking as a reading skill, just as we teach kids how to read poetry and historical fiction and maps. And you can teach it within the context of a reading workshop so it makes sense to kids...and you can maintain best practice that way across the instruction and assessment.

Question from V Vallade, Adjunct, Bank Street College of Education: Have your methods been tried in other than elementary schools and, if so, with what success?

Amy H. Greene:

Yes. Many colleagues have discussed trying strategy-based test taking instruction in their schools.

I have no hard data, but the stories I hear about students on test day are certainly encouraging.

Comment from Catherine Weiss:

I’d love to know how you do it all? You rock!

Question from Brenda Weiss, teacher, Falmouth, MA: From which part of the book did you learn the most as you were writing?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

I loved writing the chapter about main idea. Teaching students to read and understand is such an honor, joy, and huge responsibility. All of that really hit me when we wrote that chapter. A good reading teacher can truly help a child unlock the secrets of the universe, and of life, and of himself. How amazing. That is what it’s really all about..testing is just a detail...but it’s a detail we as educators can handle.

Question from Debbie Miser, student, Lee University Education Major: Our educational system emphasizes test taking as major gage of student performance. How is it possible to teach to the test without compromising integrity of the system and continue to call ourselves educators?

Glennon Doyle Melton:

It’s not possible, I guess. As educators it is our job to meet our students needs. And right now in this country, our students need to pass tests. So we need to teach them to do that in addition to all the rest, not instead of the rest.

Question from Madeline, Guidance Counselor: So many students come into our schools with the belief that they are awful test takers. Parents also are calling in acknowledging the fact that their children are not skilled test takers. How do you get to that confidence issue in the classroom?

Amy H. Greene:

Yea, a question from the counselor.

Tests can be such an emotional experience.

I mentioned this in another question, but talking about strategies that help students deal with stress might be helpful. Role-playing, modeling, etc...just like we would help kids learn strategies for dealing with bullies.

Building a common language around these strategies in a building would help everyone. Then the students can move up year to year and just expand on what they have already learned.

See my past comments on building a sense of agency too. Critical for confidence.

Question from Timothy Best, Teacher Educator, Barbados: Seems to me that tests are primarily designed to sort students according to their various abilities. Tests do this quite well. Hence, what is the benefit of the big debate on teaching and testing?

Amy H. Greene:

Through NCLB, tests are disguised as assessers of children but really are evaluators of schools. The debate lies in what is good for kids vs. what is good for politicians. (I vote for kids.)

Our government has developed a law where a school is judged on one test and one test only. When that school is deemed a failure, THE STATE comes in to “rescue” the school. Where was the state before? Where was the money the school needed to hire the best principal and the best teachers and buy the best materials and provide time to plan the best instruction?

When the standarized tests really help kids, then there will be no debate.

Question from Dr. Robert Ostrove, Principal, Clifton Avenue Grade School: Is there a research-based, proven method to incorporate test-taking format into the everyday flow of Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop?

Amy H. Greene:

Check out our book:

Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation into Reading Workshop

Scott J. Cech, Associate Editor, Education Week (Moderator):

Thanks for all the great questions, and thanks to Amy H. Greene and Glennon Doyle Melton for joining us. Unfortunately, we have more questions than time, so we’ll have to leave the discussion there. A transcript of this chat will be available on Education Week’s Web site within a day or two:

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