How to help students prepare for CCSS assessments

How to help students prepare for CCSS assessments
Common Core Controversy
One of the key controversies surrounding the Common Core State Standards has been the question of assessments. Along with a complete overhaul of the academic requirements students are expected to meet comes a new set of online exams that test students in a way they’ve never been before. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER), one of the two groups of states that have been working to develop new CCSS-aligned exams, has even taken a page from adaptive learning systems and is using technology that adjusts the difficulty of its questions based on a student’s previous responses.

Because these new forms of assessments are so vastly different from what students are used to (not to mention that they’re being tested on more rigorous academic concepts), states like New York that have been piloting the exams are seeing a drop in scores that has some concerned. Both teachers and students are getting used to the CCSS, and students are being expected to have much more fully developed critical thinking and problem solving skills than in the past. Fortunately for most educators, the assessments aren’t slated for full implementation until the 2014-15 school year, which means they have a bit more time to help students prepare.

Practice with technology
Both the SMARTER assessments and those being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) will be administered entirely online, which means those students who aren’t tech savvy will need to get very comfortable with using computers and tablets. Teachers and administrators can help students get used to using technology by incorporating it into their everyday lessons. CCSS also happens to stress tech literacy, which means that the integration of technology will accomplish two tasks: It will prepare students to take the new assessments while simultaneously meeting one of the central aims of the Common Core State Standards.

Connect lessons to the real world
The Common Core State Standards also place an emphasis on equipping students with knowledge they can use outside the classroom and well into the future. The assessments attempt to measure the degree to which students have accomplished this feat by asking them to apply what they know to real-world problems, as opposed to having them regurgitate mathematical formulas. Teachers can prepare students to answer these types of questions by using more word problems in math class and demonstrating real-world applications of the new things they are learning.

Spend more time writing
Another key difference educators will notice when it comes to the new assessments is the emphasis that is placed on writing at all grade levels. Instead of relying primarily on multiple choice questions, as standardized tests generally have in the past, the CCSS-aligned assessments will ask students to demonstrate their writing skills in a variety of ways. This will include responding to short-answer questions about provided texts. Educators can help students prepare by increasing the amount of writing done in class across all subjects.

Use data to personalize learning
Because so many changes will be happening in terms of academic standards and curricula as the CCSS are implemented, it’s important that teachers have up-to-date data about their students so they know which areas need more focus. Instead of giving students weekly tests and sifting through the data themselves, schools can using adaptive learning systems to personalize the learning experience of each child and immediately gain the information they need to tailor instruction effectively.

Focus on the standards
While educators may be tempted to teach to the test, the best thing they can do to prepare students is to simply focus on the standards themselves. If schools focus on making sure their students are meeting standards and truly understand what they are learning, then the test scores will eventually follow. The ultimate goal should be for the Common Core State Standards, the assessments and teachers’ instructional approaches to all seamlessly connect.

Are you in the process of preparing students to take the CCSS-aligned assessments? What tactics are you using?

Neal Manegold

Producer, DreamBox Learning | MBA, Technology Management | NBCT, Middle Childhood