Stuck in the Middle: Take it Easy, Dad!
Each year grade 4 and 7 students take the Ministry of Education Foundation Skills Assessments. These standardized assessments have reading, numeracy and writing components, with two of those sections being online.
In my experience with FSA’s over the years, students are more successful and show their true reading and numeracy abilities when they have spent some time going over how to write an online assessment. There are several tools and tricks that can help students navigate the assessment to achieve a score that indicates their actual proficiency in reading and numeracy.
This year we had less time to prepare students how to take the assessment, so we condensed our preparation into 20-minute classroom lessons. I visited each room and shared a sample reading passage and walked the students through how to read and answer the questions. These assessments are about students taking their time to go back into the article to find the answer from the text. They are not tests of reading speed or the ability to remember everything you have read. These are some of the simple strategies we shared with students to help them understand and increase achievement:
1st Step - Read the title and take a picture walk through the photos, charts and figures by reading their captions.
2nd Step - Read the passage and then start looking at the questions.
3rd Step - After reading the questions, split the screen and go back to the article to reread and retrieve the answer. A blue highlighted part of the question will take you back to the right part of the story or article so you can find the answer more easily.
4th Step - Choose the best answer. Most questions have two right answers, but one is better.
5th Step - If you can not decide on the best answer, eliminate the obviously wrong answers and make your best-educated guess based on the information.
6th Step - Do not leave any answers blank. The assessments take into account that students will occasionally be making their best-educated guess.
7th Step - Go back and check answers that you have flagged.
I ended the short lesson by sharing a story about my son and his experience as a reader and taking the FSA’s as a student. In grade 4, he was a struggling reader. As Tom Petty would say, he was still “Learning to Fly.” In fact, he showed very little interest in having the wings or interest he needed to take off as a reader. My wife and I read with him every night and worried about his progress, even though we knew from research that some children take longer to become readers.
I guess my son was more of an Eagles fan because he was happy just to “Take It Easy” and not “let the sound of your own (my old) wheels drive you (him) crazy.”
I still had him write the FSA’s in grade 4, and I was not surprised that the report sent home from the Ministry of Education said he was “Not Yet” meeting expectations in reading. It wasn’t until grade 5 that my son started to become a reader. I had learned to “Take it Easy” and let the process of reading take its course while he learned to fly.
When his grade 7 FSA results came home, I was pleased that he was meeting expectations. I was quick to want to celebrate his improvement. “Kade, you scored great on your FSA’s.”
He replied, “I could have done better.” My initial thoughts were ‘seriously,’ let’s not get too overconfident.
“You did great.” But my interest was piqued, so I had to dig deeper for answers. “How could you have done better? You were just a couple of marks away from exceeding expectations?”
“I didn’t answer the last five questions,” was his simple and direct response with no remorse or regret.
“Why didn’t you answer the last five questions?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“The bell went, and I wasn’t finished, so I asked Mr. Bergeron if I could go for recess? He said ‘yes,’ so I just pressed submit and went outside to play.”
“But, but, but... weren’t you interested in seeing how high a score you could achieve?” I asked in the hope of getting a response I wanted to hear.
“Not really,” he replied. “I did the best I could when I was answering the questions.” And with those words, he ran off to resume playing, and I was reminded that I was also learning to fly as a parent and coming down is the hardest thing. He had already moved on.
At North Saanich Middle School, most grade 7’s will write the FSA’s, and the Principal knows this is just a small snapshot of their learning. We know learning is a process and journey that takes place at different times and rates for our students. Some come out of the gate flying, while others will take it easy. But if the bell rings, know that if you are one of the students who “takes it easy,” you can always come back and finish the assessment after recess and a snack; just don’t press submit!
PS. My son is back at university and living away from home. This Christmas, I gave him a book to read. Tonight I had to grab something from his room and found the book sitting on his dresser, unopen and unread. I guess I should “Take It Easy” and wait a couple of years to see if he reads it before making a rash judgement.