Breaking Down Benchmark Assessments 

Benchmark Assessments

All too often, we hear from teachers sharing concerns about assessments being too long or not being user-friendly. Let’s chat about ways to make the assessments more useful! In this post, we discuss how we can make tests more understandable for students and ways to make time for them.

Incorporating Gradual Release When Teaching Test-Taking Skills

As you begin the year, (if your school/district allows) you may consider reading Unit 1 assessment materials to your students. This includes it all… reading passages, test questions, and answer choices. As a class, you can model active thinking and work through each text, annotating as you model thought process and comprehension. While grappling with the text questions and answer choices, talk through the answer selections with students, modeling how to eliminate answer options. 

While this process does not produce authentic data, you are laying a foundation that will yield stronger results as student progress to future units. As you move into your second unit, place more of the responsibility of leading the discussion using this method, on your students. This gradual release process helps to build skills and confidence. By unit 3, the goal should be that students can independently complete assessments while incorporating these strategies. 

For continued practice throughout the year, consider using my “Apply It!” comprehension questions. These are questions written using the same testing language as the Benchmark assessments and they pertain to the text(s) students are reading each week during your Benchmark lessons. There are a variety of question types: Part A/Part B, check all that apply, put in sequential order, and many more. The “Apply It” comprehension questions also come as paper quizzes, Google Slides, and self-checking Google Forms. Teachers use them as test prep, additional assessment, and exit tickets. Find them for grades 1-5 here.

"Apply It" Benchmark Advance Comprehension Questions

Making Time for Assessment

Finding time for lengthy assessments can feel overwhelming. When administering weekly assessments, give yourself some “planned flexibility” for example, you may choose to assess on Friday each week. This could be anytime throughout the day, don’t put pressure on yourself to stick to the same routine EVERY SINGLE WEEK! Find a pocket of time during the day, taking into account what else needs to be accomplished, and provide students with a window of time to complete their weekly assessment. 

As far as unit assessments, we know these can be lengthy. Consider chunking these over the course of a week. Provide students with 4-5 questions each day. This allows completion without feeling overwhelming! You may consider adding a week onto each unit, creating a 4-week unit. During this time, you can concurrently teach your new unit. You can begin your new unit launch, teach an exciting new anchor chart, or focus on introducing new vocabulary and setting the stage for an upcoming unit while assessing at the same time. Keep in mind, you may also choose to make modifications to the assessment. This could include excluding questions or even removing the performance task if you feel it is in the best interest of instruction within your classroom. 

Making Connections Through the Standards

As you are working with your students and breaking down assessment questions, build awareness of the standards. Display relevant standards (in kid-friendly language) in your classroom. Discuss which standard is being assessed. Teach students to “tune in” using a “keyword” to connect the standard to the question. For example, connecting RL3.3 to the word “motive” or “motivation”. Have them connect these “keywords” to words in the questions that are related. This will build awareness and familiarity as students connect previously learned strategies to new text questions. 

Assessment can feel heavy! Like many other aspects of Benchmark, allow yourself the flexibility to make things work for YOUR class. Teaching test-taking skills can feel time-consuming, but sometimes we need to “slow down” to speed up. Developing a solid foundation and teaching strategy that can be applied to upcoming learning will only benefit your students (and improve those test scores!). 

To learn more about these practices take a look at this YouTube video: 

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