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Students Hone Skills on Practice Tests

To make sure students are familiar with the format and content of Connecticuts high stakes tests, Parkville gives students take practice tests under the same conditions they will experience on the actual test day.
Included: Information about testing practices.

About This Series

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending time this school year at Parkville Community Schoolin Hartford, Connecticut, to report on the challenges an urban school faces and the strategies it employs in its quest to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Practice tests at Parkville Community School are taken just as seriously as the real thing.

In early December, students in grades 3-6 took a practice version of the editing section of the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs). Students were required to read paragraphs and answer questions about mistakes in grammar, spelling, or punctuation. The practice tests were developed by Parkville staff from various sources, but designed to replicate the actual state tests. Teachers also were asked to note on the tests the time each one was completed so staff members could analyze how students were pacing themselves.


To replicate testing conditions, principal Elizabeth Michaelis told the main office staff not to let any students into those classrooms once the testing began. A third grader who came upstairs was shooed back down to the office, and told to wait there until the tests were done. I want them to get used to being on time for tests, Michaelis said. Parents had been notified that testing would start at 9 a.m. Students who were late took the test later in the day. Those who were absent could take it the following day.

Every classroom door had a sign that said Do Not Disturb or Quiet Please, CMT Testing. Several third-grade classrooms also had signs on the door that read This class will begin college in 2016.

Michaelis spent the 45-minute testing period patrolling the second floor, ensuring that the hallways were quiet and periodically peering through the classroom door windows to make sure students were staying on task and not sitting and day dreaming.

Before one practice test session, Michaelis had deliberated whether to let a particular student take the test with his class. He became distracted easily and distracted others. Michaelis told him she thought he could it, and made sure he was seated near the door so she could look in and smile and make encouraging gestures. The boy made it through the test.


Testing practice began in earnest last year when the CMTs were moved from the fall to March. We decided the students needed practice taking tests and we needed to collect data, Michaelis told Education World.

Many students also needed confidence in their academic and test-taking abilities. A few years ago, when teachers passed out tests, a number of students in each class would simply put their heads down on their desks or pull their sweatshirt hoods over their heads and do nothing for 45 minutes.

Preserving Time for the Arts

Despite all the time spent drilling students on the basics, there still is time for creativity at Parkville.

This is the 11th year the school has worked with the Judy Dworin Performance Project on a music and movement program. The idea is to help children understand music as a language, said Kathy Borteck Gersten, who is with the performance project. Third, fourth, and fifth graders will read a book -- this year it is The Great Kapok Tree -- and artists will visit with a class once a week to help the students prepare a dance performance about a section of the book. For the finale, students will perform their dances at a local theater.

To prepare students for this years project, members of the world music group Sirius Coyote performed at an assembly, asking students to join in singing and clapping. (While students clapped enthusiastically, few accepted the invitation to dance to the music, although a few teachers did.)

It just gives the opportunity to do something different, and see how people interpret stories, said fifth grade teacher Ms. Palm.

They have to believe they can do this, Michaelis said. We want them to understand it is important, but we cant make the stress overwhelming.

Students also track their own scores and progress on the Success for All reading program. A poster in one hallway lists names of students who increased their reading scores by 50, 100, 150, or 200 Lexile points. Students take a test every eight weeks.

The poster lets everyone know how far some students have come. One sixth grader entered Parkville this year reading at second grade level, according to Michaelis. By November, he jumped 200 Lexile points on the Success for All tests and was so excited he put his own name on the poster, she added.


Michaelis said she has seen a change in students attitudes towards reading. Books are everywhere at Parkville, both in English and Spanish. There are piles of books in classrooms and during parent-teacher conferences, a sign in the foyer read Free Books for Parents, and parents followed arrows through the hallways and up the stairs to the literacy center where they could pick out books with their children.

Teachers also were busy this day, as with most, with reading activities. In one kindergarten class, children listened to a story read in Spanish, and answered questions. Sixth graders read a passage then decided whether certain statements were facts or opinions. If you can prove it, then its a fact, one student said.

Second graders were busy picking out words with a long a sound and figuring out which letters spell that sound.

Math takes up the second biggest chunk of the day. Lessons in one third grade class focused on calculating the perimeter of objects, but the teacher noted that the class seemed to need more practice with addition. For fifth graders, the topic was multiplying numbers with multiple digits.

Still, literacy activities never are far from everyones mind. Members of Michaelis core literacy team met in the afternoon to discuss the progress of students in programs using funds from Reading First, the federal program for k-3 literacy efforts. The money is used for tutors and training teachers to use scientifically-based instructional programs. The discussion included reviewing in which programs students take part, who is assisting them, who is doing interventions, and how often program monitoring takes place.

Its all part of Parkvilles determination to keep kids from falling through the cracks -- by providing as many safety nets as possible.