Saturday, February 14, 2015

ACT Aspire Timed Writing


Our state just moved to the ACT Aspire test, which students will be taking this year (2015). To say teachers are a little nervous is a huge understatement. The nervousness has to do with the time element of the test (in all the subject areas). Example: a third grade student has 30 minutes to write a reflective narrative piece (that includes reading the prompt and putting together any type of graphic organizer before they write AND no dictionary or thesaurus is allowed). This is a HUGE shift for our students who we have always been told to "take their time". The online reason the ACT folks note for the short time limit has to do with "test fatigue"...as in... if students are given an unlimited amount of time their writing doesn't appreciatively improve - CLICK HERE  for that explanation. I disagree and feel 30 minutes to write to an unknown prompt in grades 3-5 is highly unreasonable and not relevant in today's world (I've never been given an unknown topic and told to produce a gradable piece of anything in 30 minutes...and I am not sure I could do it if asked!). In today's environment of high stakes testing adding a timed element is just CRAZY...and there is nothing we can do about it but try to prepare our students the best way we can.

In that regard I've looked online and I can't find any teacher feedback providing tips for preparing students for this rigorous timed test (in all fairness only two states have implemented the ACT Aspire test -  Kentucky and Alabama and they only took it last year for the first time). We don't even know what the test will look like. The ACT Aspire folks have provided a few sample questions online and offer up RIDICULOUSLY expensive test preparation material but that is not helpful. Our district has tasked our math and literacy coaches to develop an ACT "like" test in each area...not to test student knowledge but to give students an opportunity to experience what the test will be like in April/May and to give them some test taking strategies in a timed environment.

One area I have been looking at is the writing test. I love writing so I started tweaking my writing strategies to meet the timed, and various types of writing, that will be tested in grades 3-5. I've been modeling the strategies in classrooms (specifically Title 1 classrooms) and asked teachers to start having students time themselves using their iPad stopwatch feature (see picture above). Based on the time limit (30 minutes) students have five minutes to read the prompt, highlight the useful information, and slap together a graphic organizer. They then (based on four paragraphs...I use the four square graphic organizer) have five minutes per paragraph to write their final piece. With the left over five minutes they can review and make any changes. Crazy...I know!

The picture above shows one of our district's 3rd grade students using the iPad to time his writing.

I would love to hear from any Alabama or Kentucky teachers about how they test prepped their students going into the test last year (please feel free to leave comments or email me directly).

I am going to end with this picture I saw on Facebook.