Schools prepare for tougher reading test [UPDATED]Published 9:35am Thursday, February 28, 2013 Updated 11:40am Thursday, February 28, 2013
AP and Daily Journal reports
Schools across Minnesota are gearing up for a tougher reading test this spring, an exam that will reflect new literacy standards the state adopted as part of a national initiative called Common Core.
Reading passages will be longer on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. Questions will be trickier. And students will read less literature and more nonfiction, all in an effort to prepare them for what comes after high school.
“Common Core is about getting kids college and career ready by the end of high school,” said Carri Thompson, curriculum director for Fergus Falls Public Schools. “There is much more nonfiction reading, and that is quite a change especially for elementary grades. Even in high school there is a higher expectation students will read more nonfiction.”
A key change for many educators has been the new focus on “informational text” — scientific articles, speeches, essays, video and social media. Many are spending less time on literature as a result. Supporters of the new standards say students must learn to analyze such texts to succeed in college and later on the job.
“Teachers that teach math, science, history and technical subjects are also expected to help students be better readers and writers of nonfiction.” Thompson said. “There is also expectations for media literacy and better research — students must be able to filter out messages that are not well researched or supported by evidence.”
Another example changes the way certain subjects are taught, including taking a different approach on what it means to be a speaker.
“We’ve always had speech class, and had students stand up and share an experience,” Thompson said. “Instead of an individual speech, students may start out working in a group or panel and prepare a group discussion for public discourse as part of the new standard.”
Thompson added that in order to prepare for the new tests, the district has added new materials to the kindergarten through sixth grade cirriculum, including science and current event passages for teachers to incorporate in reading lessons.
Karen Schneck, one of the third-grade teachers at Cleveland Elementary School, feels teachers do a good job of analyzing the standards and finding appropriate materials to incorporate into lessons.
“We have a new reading curriculum called Treasures, which includes both fiction and non fiction selections such as Homegrown Butterflies, an expository story about growing butterflies,” Schneck said. “In the third grade we group students by reading levels and work with them by what they need to work on such as phonics or comprehension skills.”
Thompson says she doesn’t expect the test to take longer to complete, even though the state has urged districts to set aside as much as five hours for the test.
“We do our reading test with paper pencil over parts of two days — two hours one day and two hours another day,” Thompson said. “We do the reading test in grades three through eight every year and also in tenth grade to make sure they are still procicient and on track. If they don’t pass the test in tenth grade, the must retake it until they pass since it’s required for graduation.”
Minnesota secured a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, so failing to hit proficiency targets on the MCAs won’t carry all penalties it did in previous years. Nevertheless, districts will be watching the scores closely.
Minnesota signed on to the Common Core language arts and literacy standards in 2010, while opting out of the math standards. Forty-six states have adopted the reading requirements, which contain shared expectations of what students should know in each grade. Jennifer Dugan, the state’s testing director, said that until actual students sit for the test, the estimate that it will take up to five hours is an educated guess, aimed at ensuring districts that allow plenty of time so students don’t feel rushed.
Scott Voss, past president of the Minnesota Reading Association, said a test should be able to size up reading proficiency in less than four hours.
“I would be concerned if our state reading test takes longer than the ACT or SAT,” he said. “Beyond that, you either have a highly inefficient test or you’re just torturing students.”