High-stakes testing puts an incredible amount of pressure on teachers and students. Teachers are evaluated based on their students' performance on these tests, which can have a direct impact on their job status. Students' scores on standardized tests can affect placement in school and level of instruction, but do not always measure a student's true ability.
With so much riding on these scores it should not be a surprise that teachers are always looking for instructional strategies to give their students an “edge.”
In this article, Wattenberg compares her ideas about reading comprehension assessments with those of E.D. Hirsch (educator and academic literary critic).
Like Hirsh, Wattenberg believes, "...reading comprehension depends hugely on the background knowledge that the reader brings to the text. Knowledge builds vocabulary, and when the reader doesn’t understand the words in a text, comprehension suffers."
Wattenberg shares in the article, how she reviewed all the publicly released 2015 test items from PARCC and SBAC. She explains how she focused on the third grade test items because she thought they would be more skill driven and less dependent on background knowledge.
Wattenberg found that both PARCC’s and SBAC’s third-grade reading passages were content-rich and included difficult vocabulary. Wattenberg states, "Schools that want to boost test scores would be wise to beef up instruction in content knowledge in the early grades." She also says, "The knowledge and vocabulary that are embedded in these passages ranges across basic astronomy; human and physical geography; cultural adaptation; units of measurement; space travel; biological, physical, and evolutionary processes; manufacturing processes such as logging and papermaking; and a heavy dose of animal characteristics and habitats."
Wattenberg notes that we, of course do not know the reading topics of non-released test items or topics of future tests, but the released items so far are consistent with best state social studies and science standards. Wattenberg concludes, "Preparing students to score well on these tests requires systematically and deliberately exposing them to and instructing them in a rich, broad curriculum of science, history, geography, and the arts, starting at the earliest grades and continuing through every grade."
I think this article is important for all reading teachers.
I was taught that when working with children on nonfiction material focus on 'teaching the reading strategy and do not get caught up in the content of the text.' This article has changed my thinking... I will now make sure I am covering both strategy and content when working with nonfiction texts.
After reading the article I realized if I was going to teach content in reading class I needed to organize my science and social studies objectives to make learning purposeful for my students.
CONTENT-RICH READING LESSONS
To assist other teachers in content-rich reading lessons, I've created a printable organizer that outlines how to incorporate 5th grade Social Studies into reading plans. This example emphasizes 'content subject' planning. You can download my Content-Inspired Reading Plan and a blank organizer for you to use for your own planning.
Students and teachers feel an incredible amount of pressure to do well on high-stakes exams. With so much riding on test scores, teachers are often looking for instructional strategies to give their students an "edge."