I know I feel this way and I am getting the feeling that so many other teachers are feeling similarly: These new standards and unknown state assessments make us feel like we’re in a ship in a storm without a map. Or a captain. Or maybe even the ship. Whether you think it’s ethical or not (or just somewhere in the gray area), test-prep is a huge industry. Barron’s makes a gazillion dollars a year on AP prep. There is ACT and SAT prep materials. Kaplan charges people hundreds of dollars to prep for major tests at the post-secondary level (and below). State tests, in the past, have had a variety of test-prep materials. Probably the most-used (most-valuable, etc.) are the released tests. You get old versions of the assessments and you give them to your students to practice. Makes sense, right? I mean, that’s how kids study for and pass the AP tests. Many states even had targeted assessment resources – workbooks with practice items, CD-ROMS with practice tools, even whole websites with practice for students across the grades.
But what happens when the tests change? And not just a little change, either, but a change so significant and monumental that there simply aren’t any really good ways to institute formal test prep. Whether your state has adopted the PARCC, Smarter Balance, FSA (for Florida), or some other new tool to assess the CCSS, you are probably desperately looking around for resources to help prepare your students for these exams. I mean, really, all you know is that your students will be tested on how well they “master” the standards. But what does that really mean? Really? No one knows. Yes, PARCC has a nice site with a handful of sample items. Yes, FSA released item specs with context-less contextual sample questions (with no answers, I might add). And there is a sample test. But seriously, how helpful is all of that? Minimally. It’s better than nothing, yes, but it’s nowhere near what teachers need. Or what their students need. Don’t even get me started on the ambiguity of the standards themselves. The interpretations are far and wide, which makes it virtually impossible to know not only what will be asked, but how the assessments will ask it.
It’s frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating. Do I have all the answers? No. But I do work with the new standards every day (yes, I’m in Florida, and technically we have the LAFS, not the CCSS, but at the secondary [6-12] level, the LAFS are, for all intents and purposes, identical to the CCSS), and I work with people who get to go to all sorts of symposiums and trainings to learn about the new standards and rubrics. I don’t know exactly how the different companies are going to interpret and assess the standards, but I am certainly more familiar with the standards and their potential assessments than an average classroom teacher. Therefore, based on my own trainings and those I work with, I have created question stems for the standards grades 6-8 and the 9-10 and 11-12 standards. Each level (6-8) has over 200 question stems. My middle school documents are extraordinarily popular (and highly rated), and I have noticed that many teachers buy not just one level, but multiple levels of stems. In response, I have decided to bundle my 6-8 stems so teachers can get all 3 levels for a reduced price. I am also working on revising and bundling my high school stems documents, so if you haven’t become a follower of my store, go to the link and become a follower so you can get updates when I post new products.
I hope these stems are helpful for you in your classroom. You can use them as discussion starters, for traditional (multiple choice) assessments, or for extended responses. You can even give them to students and have them make their own questions from various literature. If you purchase the bundle (or any single stems documents), please be sure to review the product!
And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my football freebie since the Buckeyes showed Sparty who’s boss in the Big Ten!