NOTE: This post is an edited version of the article Bill Lombard wrote for the California League of High Schools for use in their publication, The High School Educator.
STAR testing in mathematics can be a stressful experience for both teachers and students, not to mention administrators as well. Here are some ways to effectively prepare students for the test so they will have confidence, perform well, and the teacher will feel good also.
STEP 1: Start early.
The first week of school is not too early to begin. Good teachers set the classroom climate in the first few days of school; begin STAR prep with the simplest questions to build the “Can Do” attitude. Don’t just hand out questions; it’s much better to model problem solving strategies that work well on tests. One wall in my room has eleven problem-solving techniques that are used frequently; we refer to these often. Show students the thinking process behind solving a problem, then give them problems to practice on.
STEP 2: Set a clear target.
Let your students know what they are aiming at and what your expectations are for them. Coaches like to look at game films of upcoming opponents; the STAR test can be viewed as the students’ opponent. By sharing a multitude of potential questions and variations of those questions with them, they will be well prepared for any type of question asked.
STEP 3: Be consistent.
Excellent coaches know that mastering the fundamentals of a sport leads to success on the playing field. By training your students well, they will have a toolkit of skills they can call on during the STAR test.
STEP 4: Make STAR prep a part of your daily routine and curriculum.
Preparation can be done as warmups, homework questions or extensions of STAR questions, or part of your regular quizzes/tests. Students thrive on daily routine and look forward to doing better as the weeks pass. Giving them the same or similar questions builds confidence, as well as skill.
STEP 5: Add variety to your preparation methodology.
Build a library of prep materials. After doing STAR prep for awhile, you will have some favorite test questions; consider modifying them to probe different, alternative areas of the curriculum.
Incorporate language. Ask students to write down the key steps or key concept of a problem. Ask them their favorite problem-solving tool. Writing after student involvement is key to understanding.
Consider Backward/Forward Mapping: show students easier/harder problems than those at their grade level so they (and their teacher) can see how their problems fit into the continuum of skills.
STEP 6: Get students to the point of automaticity.
Students need to know certain math facts and concepts as well as they know their own phone numbers. These facts are the building blocks for the math you work on throughout the year. I typically spend many days on a few key ideas, such as the four different ways to write the equation of a straight line, and then test students after they demonstrate almost-perfect recall. This builds confidence and a “Can Do” attitude which carries over to other ideas.
Consider building quick recall by the use of a game-type format or other motivating method that works for your students.
STEP 7: Be confident that you have done well (pat yourself on the back).
If you have followed the steps above you will have provided your students the best possible chance for test success.
Building a set of teaching methods and skills allows you to become better year after year. In successive years you can refine your preparation process.
Best of luck with your students as you prepare them throughout the year for your state’s mandated tests.