Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why I Give the Comprehension Test First, Instead of Last

My district uses Pearson Reading Street for Tier 1 reading instruction.  I really like most of the passages in Reading Street, as they are tied to either science or social studies.  I don't like the fact that weekly comprehension tests are not tied to the passage we work with  all week.  So I wrote my own comprehension activity and test to go with every passage in the book. I also wrote my own comprehensive vocabulary tests.  At the end of every week, I test comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling. The comprehension tests are open book, and each one has only fourteen questions.  Even though we have read the story two or three times by Friday, I insist that my students use their books.  This  goes back to the Common Core standard of having students refer specifically to evidence in the text when answering questions.

These weekly comprehension tests have been a great source of frustration for me.  Most of my students would rather guess, or go on memory alone, instead of finding answers in the text.  They do not want to put forth the few minutes of effort that would almost always give them a good test score.  They have been content to get low scores, as long as they don't have to work for a high score.  I have talked, coaxed, pleaded, and explained the reason for referring to the text.  All to no avail.  I have sat next to kids and made them show the answer in the book before marking it on their paper.  I have gone over the test together when handing back the corrected papers, pointing out where the answer is found in the story.  I have given them a certain amount of time that they must spend on the test, and have not allowed to do anything else until that time is up.

This week, I gave the comprehension test first, on Monday morning.  We had not read the story together, I had not introduced the story or the vocabulary words.  I simply told them to open their books to the beginning of this week's story, gave them the test, and told them to use their books.  Guess what?  They used their books.  They had to.  They had no memory of the story to rely on.
Of twenty-three students taking the test, 2 had the same score as on last week's test (which was taken last Friday), 1 had a lower score, and 20 students had higher scores.  My class average last week was 79%, when taking that comprehension test after reading, discussing, and studying the story.  This week, on the first reading, my class average was 93%.

From now on, we will take the comprehension test with the first reading of the story.  This makes sense, because on standardized tests, they answer comprehension questions the first time they read the text, not after a week of discussion and re-reading.  They are in a situation of relying on the words of the text, rather than their own memory.

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