Next week my students will take the OGTs. Every morning for two hours, sophomores will come to school to take standardized tests while the rest of the students sleep in. Because of the emphasis that the state, and therefore the schools, place on these tests, most teachers of sophomores use a lot of the time preceding the week to prepare their students for the tests. By the time the tests roll around in March, it is all I can do to fake my enthusiasm for the day's lesson.
No matter what ability level, there is typically some component of preparation for the tests. And English teachers get the extra special bonus of preparing students for both a reading test and a writing test. I teach both honors sophomore English and regular sophomore English. In my honors class, I do not need to focus on the reading test because the students' abilities to read, comprehend, and answer questions about passages surpasses the material on the actual test. Instead, I focus on the writing test. There is usually no concern about honors students passing the writing section, but there is a pressure to nudge the students into the advanced score category. This means that students need to know what they must do to write a high-scoring essay, and they must practice it.
In my regular English class, I focus on the reading test more than the writing test. For this test, I really teach testing strategies more than anything else. My students learn to eliminate all "no, no, no" answers in order to figure out the correct answer. We also practice dissecting a short answer question by looking at the number of points it earns. This helps students understand how many tasks they need to do for the question.
Last year I began at the beginning of the year, and we did OGT practice every Tuesday and Thursday. This year I started after winter break. Either way, the kids are slow to get on board and, in general, dislike the practice. But I have found that the saying "practice makes perfect" is typically true, and the preparation pays off with the majority of my students passing their English tests.
It definitely consumes my energy as I must work hard to engage the students, but I don't mind the preparation as it is easy to prepare. What I feel this year, now that I am done with it for the rest of the year, is eagerness to delve back into literature.
I cannot wait to read "The Fall of the House of Usher" with my honors students. And soon we will begin Huck Finn. I'm tired of working on texts and writing prompts that are geared toward tests. Instead, I want to have conversations with my students about questions that have no definitive answers. I want to have my regular students write editorials in which they have to research an issue that they actually care about and want to study.
Yes, I know what people say...that if I'm teaching the curriculum well enough, I don't have to do test preparation because the students will learn and will pass the test anyway. I'm just no so sure about that. I think that for many students, particularly below-average ability level students, familiarity and practice with the questions are what they need to pass the test. At least these tests.
So I do test preparation because I want my students to pass. It isn't the entirety of my curriculum, but it is a big part of it until March. And now that the week has come, I am ready to transition my focus from passing the tests to enjoying the content. That is freedom.