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April 28, 2009

Getting Ready for the DC-CAS (in pre-k)!

This week, third through fifth grade students at my school are taking the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS).  The results of this standardized test, which is administered every April, will be used to determine whether our school meets the goals set forth by No Child Left Behind.  The stakes are high, and the focus on the test is mounting.  From staff meetings and professional development to homework packets and parent meetings, it seems that DC-CAS is high on everyone's radar.
As a pre-k teacher, I sometimes find myself tempted to tune out all the hype about the test.  It can be hard to see the connection between what happens in my classroom on a daily basis -- students working in centers, collaborating with peers, solving problems, etc. -- and a standardized test that my students will take in five years.  However, when I stop to think about it, I realize that I am teaching many of the foundational skills that will help my students excel throughout their education, including on the DC-CAS.  Here are just a few examples:
  • Throughout the year I intentionally incorporate nonfiction, fiction, and poetry books into each of our thematic units.  Before I read these books aloud to my students, I tell them a little bit about the genre and why we are reading each book.  While I don't expect my students to master the concepts of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry in pre-k, many of them are catching on to the vocabulary and concepts associated with each genre of literature.  As they do so, my students are developing the knowledge that people write and read for a variety of purposes, and each of those purposes has a specific name. 
  • Every Monday we make a class bar graph.  The topic of the graph can be anything from "How old are you?" to "Which book do you like the most?" or "Have you been to the zoo?"  Students answer the question in a complete sentence and then put a square on the graph under the appropriate column.  As students answer the question, I ask them questions such as "How many other people chose the same answer as you?"  or "Which column has the most votes?"  By creating and interpreting our class graph, students are developing foundational skills related to data analysis and statistics, both of which are covered on the DC-CAS. 
  • Our classroom culture is focused around the idea that hard work will lead to success.  I set goals with each of my students and we talk explicitly about how they can work to achieve their goals.  I constantly reinforce my students' hard work by commenting on what they have done (e.g. "I can tell that you're working so hard on that writing because you're taking time to stretch out the words and make your letters.") and provide encouragement when they are frustrated (e.g. Help a child calm down and then say, "You wrote the curved part of your 'J,' now all it needs is a line across the top!  I saw you draw a line on your paper this morning, let's see if you can do it again.") My students have learned to identify hard work in themselves and in their peers, and often provide support and encouragement to one another!  With this, they are developing the mindset that they can see success through hard work. 
Given all of this, it is not surprising to find that students who attend pre-k score better on standardized tests in fourth grade!

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