85: Writing for Tests & Assessments





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  • Uses:
    • Prepare for standardized tests
    • Assess what students are learning
  •  Limitations of Standardized Test Essays:
    • Writing to summarize what one knows as opposed to everyday writing that aims to inform, persuade, entertain, etc.
    • Tends to promote external (not intrinsic) motivations, esp. on high stakes tests
    • Audience is very limited
    • Limited to test topic – doesn’t explore related issues
    • Limited time to edit and revise
    • Prompts are not always authentic
    • Snapshot of 1 moment in time, not a progressive assessment
  • Teaching Students how to Respond to Essay Questions:
    • Focus prompts on big ideas, some direct & indirect
    • Use higher Bloom’s verbs in prompts rather than just asking students to summarize material
    • Make essay questions on tests, one step in an ongoing writing process
    • Give students more time (take home essay tests) – makes tests more valid because students have more time to revise and edit
    • Have pair discussion about prompt as a prewriting activity
    • Connects features of tests to features of video games
    • Use practice prompts that tie well with students’ prior knowledge so they can focus on writing organization, revising, and editing
    • Teach students how to use formative feedback to improve their writing
    • Using rubrics tips:
      • Involve students in creating parts of the rubric – can help them identify key features by studying models
      • Keep number of criteria small
      • Maintain a balance between writing and content criteria
      • Make content criteria broad and conceptual
      • Build in flexibility – include extra blank row in rubric for unexpected outcomes
  • Essays on Standardized tests:
    • Instead of asking for summaries, ask students to draw conclusions based on evidence/ examples and to make connections between material and the outside world
    • Explain and practice meeting standardized test rubric criteria
    • Promote attitudes that students apply to video games such as:
      • engaging topic as intellectual exercise
      • alert, quick to respond
      • searching mind for info
      • considering lots of possibilities
      • deciding on type of game response


For some teachers, standardized tests are unavoidable.  Finding ways to integrate high stakes standards into PBL projects is part of ensuring students are able to reap the positive consequences of high stakes tests such as graduation, grade level promotion, college credit, etc.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze high stakes standards and high stakes testing rubrics (if released)
  • Write student friendly, specific  learning targets based on an in-depth analysis of high standards standards and high stakes rubric criteria
  • Prioritize and sequence learning targets
  • Design problems and essay prompts that align to the  learning targets
  • Find authentic contexts and products that students can use to practice skills and understandings in learning targets
  • Build scaffolds and attitudes that support students’ ability to solve problems and create essays that meet learning targets
Early Implementation Steps
  • Practice prioritize thinking and writing skills in the context of PBL projects that naturally connect with learning targets aligned to high stakes standards
  • Implement scaffolding activities and assessments that include some of the strategies (above)
  • Have students reflect often on how their skills and understandings are progressing towards prioritized learning targets
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students how to analyze and summarize benchmark data and use it to set and achieve academic goals
  • Teach students the language embedded in the standards and use reflections and tools that make them specifically aware of their areas of strength and growth with regards to high stakes assessments



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