Sunday, March 17, 2013


Warning: Monday is Approaching

I know.....I should be enjoying the last hours of Spring Break instead of thinking about Monday.  But this isn't just any Monday. This Monday begins the countdown to April 23rd.   What is April 23rd, you ask?  Why, it's the Texas Math STAAR test.  Only 25 school days to finish teaching the curriculum, review, tutor, and otherwise prepare my 8 and 9 year old third graders for their first high-stakes test.  The thought of it all sends my stomach into a gymnastics routine that rivals Gabby Douglas' gold medal performance in London, except my gymnastic days were over somewhere in the late 80's. 

Recently, a colleague of mine told me that she knows of other districts that start preparing for STAAR during the first week of the school year. My friends, I pray you are not in one of those districts.  The thought of that makes me so sad, mostly for the kids.  But, I guess it's reality in the education world we live in today.  

I'm a realist.  It's coming.....I can't change it....must deal with it.  So I thought it might be cathartic to share my "Preparing for the Test" routine.  Here we go. 

#1  Analyze the Benchmark

Our district gives a math benchmark prior to Spring Break.  In administering the benchmark, we simulated the STAAR environment: the test was STAAR length (46 rigorous questions) and the kiddos had 4 hours to finish. Many used the entire 4 hours and they were completely exhausted.  A review of the results showed that they started out well then showed less effort and more mistakes as the test went on.  Note to self:  Build stamina.  

I also crunched all the data provided by the benchmark.  I looked at which standards I need revisit or hit hard.  For those who did poorly, I created an individualized success plan and discussed it with their parents.  

#2  Create One-to-One Tutoring Schedule

For those who are considered at-risk for failing the test, I will offer 1-1 tutoring with me after school.  We have small group tutoring during school day.  But, some of the kiddos will require intensive re-teaching of conceptual skills....the type of skills that should have been mastered before they came to third grade.  I require that the parents attend the tutoring as well, so they can reinforce what I am teaching with their children at home. 

#3 Daily STAAR Quizzes

Each day my students will take a STAAR quiz with 10-12 questions.  I will briefly meet with each student to go over the problems that they missed.  If they score 90 or above OR improve their score according to a goal we set together, the student gets a sticker.  For every 5 stickers that they earn, they get to spin the Prize Wheel (something I only do during STAAR prep).  We come up with the prizes together (within reason), as they tend to work harder when the prize is something they really want to win.  

#4  STAAR Daily 5  

We will continue with our Daily 5 plan until all the standards are taught.  My Math Stations will reinforce the weak areas as shown on the Benchmark.  

The independent station will be an ongoing review project.  The students will create a A B C's of Math booklet which you can get for free HERE.  

The goal will be to ensure that everyone is engaged in math review activities so that I may meet with small groups to review and reteach.  

#5  Practice STAAR Tests

I plan on giving 2 additional STAAR practice tests.  I will probably use a beefed-up version of the 2009 Released TAKS Test including questions similar to the STAAR Released Test Questions.  I also recommend two practice math STAAR tests I found on TPT (#1 and #2).  I used the 4th grade versions last year and they were great.  The author has taken great care to mirror the blueprint of the STAAR test.  

#6  Keeping it Low-Key 

Last but not least, I work very hard to limit anxiety about the test.  My goal is to over-prepare the kiddos by exposing them to as much problem solving as I can before the test.  I want them to approach  test with confidence by having lots of experience under their belts. In fact, I've had kids tell me that they thought the test was going to be so much harder than it was.  That's where I want them to be.  

I often relate the test prep to sports.  It's something to which they all can relate.  I am the coach and they are the team.  I tell the students that I am going to coach them to be the best player that they can be.  And we do that through practice, practice, practice!  
For instance, Michael Phelps didn't win all those gold medals by sitting on the edge of the pool and dangling his feet in the water.  To make my point, I love to show this video, when Phelps won his 7th gold medal in Beijing by .01 second.  He could never have done that without all the practice and training he did.  And where did that final burst of energy come from?  He pushed himself because he wanted to win and he believed he could do it! 

Finally, we talk about how a coach can get the team ready, but he doesn't play in the game.  The coach steps aside and the player does his best to remember and implement everything the coach taught him, just like Michael Phelps!  As we get closer, I will remind them everyday that they are ready.  They just have to show what they know.  


Well, that's that.  For those of you who teach a testing grade, I wish you all the best in making it through the next several weeks.  

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


  1. It's blitz time! We just analyzed the data as a team and have divided kids up based on scores. 4 small groups for intense review and 4 groups for regular review.
    Thanks for the ABC book. I'm going to use it as an independent project with my 5th graders during guided math!
    Love the pep talk about being a coach. So true!
    Fabulous Fifth Grade Fun

  2. I heear ya!! We have 2 weeks until the 5th grade Reading & Math with an early release and Easter break thrown in... I have decided I will NOT be stressed (or at least not act like it) & already have a girl's weekend planned with some fellow teachers the weekend following. Good luck!!

  3. I love your new blog design! It is too cute! I just replaced your old button with your new one on my blog.

    I understand your worries over testing. Best wishes! I know all of your hard work will pay off in the success of your students!

    Teaching Fourth

  4. Funny, you and I must be on the same wavelength. I just finished a post for today about going back after March countdown mode...and that meant I had to COOK! Have to have something ready for lunches next week. I also wrote a post (to be published later this week) about test prep. I have a little longer than you do...the EQAO tests in Ontario don't start until late May but it is still on my mind. I have created the first of 5 test prep booklets from the released items and I am going to start using it this week. I can tell by reading your post that you know how to make the most of this "testing craziness" and that your students will do well no matter what!
    Here's counting down to's only 2 weeks away:)

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  6. There isn't anything that I don't absolutely love about this post. I love your attitude, love the plan, love it all!!! It's a 5 week countdown until the 3rd grade Math & Reading STAAR.....yikes!!! I'm gonna be using a lot of what you just talked about. I'm so glad you're from Texas...I only wished you lived closer! Great post, Moxie girl :)

    Third Grade & Lovin' It

  7. Finally another fellow Texan who understands the pressure! We just gave a "mock" test to our kiddos before spring break, and our math results were not so hot. We did better in reading, although we still have a lot of work to do. Do you find that your students are pretty proficient with their math facts (addition and subtraction) when they come to you at the beginning of the year or is that something that causes problems?

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Great post! I feel your pain! We will be testing here in California about the same time you do. My 4th graders already had the BIG writing test this month. Painful! Hang in there! I'm your newest follower!
    Justin- Writing Pad Dad
    Writing Pad Dad Blog

  9. What an awesome post! It sounds like you're doing an amazing job of keeping your kids focused but not making them anxious or stressed! I'm loving your blog...I'm your newest follower! :)



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