## Saturday, February 15, 2014

### Test Scores are In

While we're waiting for test scores for the 2013-2014 test prep season, I was surprised to receive the scores for NWEA assessment against the common core standards for my third grader.  I thought that Illinois was moving toward this, but apparently my son took the test in Fall 2012, Winter 2013, and a few weeks ago for Winter 2014.  All the scores came on one sheet.

Each of the scores are broken down four ways for competitive parents to poor over the data and plan a comeback strategy for their kid.

The reason why I'm focusing on a comeback strategy for high achieving students is that the only place to go is down.   Suppose that your child is in the 99th percentile.  They have a 1/3 change of doing poorly on a bad day and scoring in the 85% to 90% percentile, a 1/3 chance of doing great at 99%, and a 1/3 chance of getting a 110% if there was such a score on a really good day.  On average, your genius child would get a 85% to 90% ranking every three years and it would break your heart.  You would curse the teacher and blame yourself.   Well, here we are in third grade.

When my son started 1st grade, he was 2 years ahead in math, and we focused on laziness since his accelerated program is only 1 year ahead in math until 5th or 6th grade.  I am literally focusing on laziness.  If I catch him working hard to solve a problem, I'll make him transform or rethink the problem and solve it again without expending mental effort.   If he gets less than 99% on a test, I'm personally wounded, but in truth we are just biding our time through arithmetic until we can get to real math.  I should be drilling him on multiplication and division, but instead we're working through 7th grade algebra.  This isn't going to help us on the bi-annual assessment.

Language is another story.  When he got to first grade, he read at about the first grade level, which was a disaster for a program that used a third grade language arts text book.  Shame on me.  Now he's a third grader who is not overly thrilled to read Little House on the Prairie and other boring books, despite my pleading with him to read carefully so he can take an AP English course in high school and read even more boring books.   His weakness on the Common Core assessment is the part where you have to read stories and answer questions.   I remember very clearly reading these passages on tests in grade school at least 2 or 3 times and not retaining any of it by the time I finished the last sentence and started the 1st question.  If anyone knows how to solve this problem, please post a comment.

In the meantime, I am continuing my project of looking through every adolescent book in the library in the hopes of finding something that is suitable for a 5th or 6th grader, but has the maturity of a 3rd or 4th grader, and is not contrary to my values.  So far, I've come up with James Patterson and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Not great literature, but at least it uses the occasional new vocabulary word.   Plus it's nice to see my son waking up and grabbing his book, or staying up late to read.   I am reading the material myself to make sure it is clean.  I can see why James Patterson sold 260 million books.

I don't see any reason why my children can't get 99% of everything, other than a long list of reasons why a little boy will not do well on a test on any given day.  It's not an unreasonable request that they put school first and know their stuff.

Related to the annual assessment, the test-prep that we continue to do and will hopefully continue through the rest of grade school is the Vocabulary Workshop.  I mentioned this a few times in the past, but now I'm going to explain why I think it's good test prep for the OLSAT and the COGAT.

First of all, these tests are vocabulary centric, and have a vocabulary section.  I don't think it would be worthwhile to create a stack of 1000 flashcards and drill your child on vocabulary words.   Although I'm going to actually try this if we have to take this test again next year.  Test prep workbooks are not a good way to learn vocabulary compared to reading and talking.  Vocabulary Workshop does a fairly good job of staying interesting.

Secondly, the cognitive skills tests are looking for kids who can figure things out, not necessarily kids who know some knowledge.  That means that the question itself is not as interesting as the answer choice.  What I like the most about Vocabulary Workshop is that most of the questions in the first and second books are either from a choice box, or are antonyms or synonyms.   Add 2 lazy boys who would rather be playing than doing Vocabulary on Saturday morning.  This equals 2 kids trying to figure out the correct answer without having to think.   That is the definition of cognitive skill.  This is what I like the most about the book.

The vocabulary section is going to be our weakest section because I've got the math and logic licked.  Therefore I prefer to work on vocabulary year round.  Since there are about 12 Vocabulary Workshop books (from about First Grade through High School), there is an unlimited supply of material.  It gets harder gradually, but never is too hard.   More and more words are completely new.

What I'm hoping for from this book is that the verbal portion of my child's brain is getting a workout and that mental strength will help on the test.  I have noticed that when they read, they do not struggle with new vocabulary.

Recently, I recommended Building Thinking skills as a critical thinking textbook.  I used it starting at the beginning of test prep season until about the last month or two before the test.   My second recommendation is Vocabulary Workshop year round from 1st grade until they pass the selective enrollment exam for High School.

The next time I post on test prep, I'm going to cover every single book with shapes in it.