Alair Holoman EDU 696: Action Research Daniel Levin American University Spring 2010

Avoiding the “I Just Guessed” Syndrome: Helping Students Read Test Passages

Abstract: This action research project looks at three levers to getting students to actually read the passages on standardized tests: investment, engagement, and comprehension. Three interventions went into these categories: increasing student confidence, increasing interest in daily reading, and increasing use of text annotation, respectively. With strategies targeted to these three specific goals, students generally did show high levels of success in all three categories.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 2 Though I am only in my second year of teaching, I am willing to hypothesize that every English teacher wonders at one point or another how to get his or her students to read more. Personally, I wonder this on a daily, perhaps even hourly, basis. Like many other urban teachers, most of my 10th graders come to me reading on a middle school level and many below that. I know that if they had been reading more as they grew up and went through their schooling, they would not be in this situation. When my students come up against their standardized test in April, it will include readings on a higher level than most of my students are prepared for. I spend much of my year, particularly the 3rd quarter, preparing students for the DC-CAS reading test. With the aforementioned problem of lack of reading skills in mind, my main concern is that my students actually try to read the passages on the test. If I had a nickel for every time I asked a student about his/her thinking on a particular question he/she missed on a practice drill and the student replied, “I just didn’t read the passage,” or, “This was boring, I just guessed,” I could retire on the money I would have. My students lack the patience and tenacity to deal with dry testing passages that are in some cases above their comprehension level. In short, my action research question is, how do I get my students to engage in reading passages so that they get test questions right? My exploration of this topic boils down to three major factors, which are the center of my research. First, there is the component of the test itself. Students have varying attitudes toward taking tests, and their investment in the test—whether or not they care about their results—is critical to their success or failure, I think. The second major component of reading test performance is comprehension. Students must understand the reading if they are going to get the questions right.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 3 The third and most all-encompassing factor is engagement in reading. Students must be willing to read the test and interested, at least on some level, in what they are reading. It seems likely that engagement feeds into comprehension—after all, if a student is so checked out of a reading passage that he/she pays little attention to it, he/she will not do a good job comprehending the passage either. Furthermore, investment in testing may be directly linked to engagement in reading, so all three major components of my question come together through engagement. My research first delves into existing literature to show the basis for the interventions I tried. Then I lay out the main concepts that drive my interventions, followed by the data from the interventions themselves. I analyze much of the data as I explain it, but my findings and discussion are also summarized at the end of my report.

Literature Review Component 1: Testing Interestingly, many researchers have focused on different aspects of test-taking and testmaking over the years. With a lens on education policy in particular, many authors and researchers are looking at standardized testing—its effectiveness, its accuracy, its impact on curriculum and teachers. While some of these studies are relevant to my question, most are important on a broader scale. In other words, I need to know how to get individual students to attack a particular test, not how testing is changing the way districts look at test preparation or how states are changing standards to prepare more rigorous assessments. But from these articles I can still glean some important information about test investment.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 4 Test fatigue is a fairly straightforward subject to pursue empirically, as Phillip Ackerman and Ruth Kanfer do in their article “Test Length and Cognitive Fatigue: An Empirical Examination of Effects on Performance and Test-Taker Reactions” (2009). Ackerman and Kanfer find that self-reported cognitive fatigue is actually not related to overall test performance, but it does correlate positively with self-reported effort. In other words, even if a student said that he or she was feeling “overtested,” it would not necessarily indicate that he/she would get a worse score, but rather that he/she stopped trying as hard on each question. This was an unexpected result of the study. The more easily predictable result—that cognitive fatigue increases with an increased duration in test time—was also confirmed. Another interesting finding was that students are more likely to report cognitive fatigue if they have certain personal dispositions or traits. Cognitive fatigue really is dependent on motivation and attitude. Student with high anxiety are more likely to feel fatigued, and students with a high need for achievement and a high desire to learn are less likely to feel fatigued. These findings have several important consequences for my research: while I do not control how long each testing session will be, I can try to improve students’ motivation and attitude toward the test, and that may actually keep them from feeling fatigued. Other studies have confirmed that fatigue and motivation both affect students’ test scores (Doscher & Bruno, 1981), and a symposium held by ETS, the Educational Testing Service, brought up the importance of other “noncognitive skills” in the framework of overall student achievement. Motivation was highlighted among these skills, as were follow-through, critical thinking, self-concept, enthusiasm, and dozens of others (Yaffe, Coley, & Pliskin, 2009). The bottom line for my purposes is that there are a lot of factors that increase student scores on tests

Helping Students Read Test Passages 5 that have nothing to do directly with testing or the testing environment, but rather a student’s overall perception of him or herself as a test-taker. In teacher Janet McClasky’s article “Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad TAAS? Rethinking Our Response to Standardized Testing” (2001), the author describes her unwillingness to comply with generic “test prep” curricula prescribed by her school. She highlights the fact that her students pass the tests without practicing on canned worksheets designed for whole-class review. She argues that by teaching novels, word parts and root words, and higher-order thinking, her students, no matter their ability level, have always been able to cope with the state’s tests. Her main point is that students must want to read books because they will never want to read tests. Though she does not offer any quantitative data other than the assertion that all of her students passed the test, her ideas are persuasive for their honesty. She has fifteen years of classroom experience to add credence to her policies. McClasky’s observations are very important to my understanding of test investment because she acknowledges a fundamental truth that I am battling with: students will not be invested in reading passages on tests. Her assertion that if students love to read, they will read the test anyway, is a powerful idea for moving forward in my classroom. It takes the pressure off of investing students in the test passage reading and places it instead on reading generally.

Component 2: Comprehension Sometimes it feels like there are as many reading plans and strategies as there are students to try them. For the purposes of my research, I will be looking at strategies that seem particularly important to older students or to the testing environment, since that is the primary focus of this question.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 6 One strategy with well-documented success is called PLAN (Caverly, Mandeville, & Nicholson, 1995). I am particularly interested in this strategy because it specifically targets informational texts, which are common on standardized tests. The PLAN strategy was developed for college students, but has been successfully adapted for middle and high school students as well. PLAN uses the idea that reading is an active process before, during, and after the actual reading itself. Each letter stands for a step in a thinking and note-taking process that students engage in while reading. Although I do not think it is necessary to draw a whole concept map for each page-long reading the students will encounter on a standardized test, I do think some of the elements could be used in a testing setting, namely the idea of recording important concepts as during reading, not just after. Furthermore, the emphasis on reading strategies to increase comprehension is important. Another strategy-based approach to the issue of comprehension is Miriam Alfassi’s (2004) research that shows that combining two specific strategies is best for secondary students’ comprehension: reciprocal teaching and direct explanation. Reciprocal teaching is when a group reads a text together, focusing on four strategy-based tasks while they read: generating questions, summarizing, clarifying confusion, and predicting. These tasks take place at a paragraph-byparagraph pace. At first the teacher must model these tasks, then gradually students can begin leading each other in the reading (hence the term reciprocal teaching). Direct explanation is another term for what some other teachers call a “think aloud”: when the teacher clearly explains the comprehension strategies being used as they are happening throughout a reading passage. This modeling and explicit explanation of strategies is followed by student practice. An earlier study by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Bird (1985) emphasized the critical importance of explaining the strategies rather than just modeling them, so the think aloud can be a time-consuming

Helping Students Read Test Passages 7 practice, but both studies showed it to be effective. In implementing her studies on the use of these two strategies, Alfassi found that high school students benefitted greatly from the strategies when embedded in a curriculum with authentic texts. Judith Franzak (2006) takes a wide-ranging approach to finding the key to literacy; she traces the development of the concept of literacy over the centuries and hones in on recent pedagogical practices. She cites many current experts who are focusing on strategies that “good readers” use to comprehend text. This is what she calls the “strategic reading approach” or the “strategic-metacognitive model,” referring to the way students must be aware of the way they are reading and thinking about reading. However, she notes (of critical importance to the current analysis) “emphasizing reading strategies may have the unintended consequence of diminishing engagement” (217). Franzak also emphasizes the importance of recognizing the political and social aspects of reading instruction, and says teachers must not think of themselves as simply teaching “reading” but rather what that practice means for the students as individuals. She notes that reading is a socially situated activity, and many minority students, particularly African Americans, may feel that reading is not part of their culture. She also says that studies have shown that teens need a caring social relationship from their reading teachers and coaches to become better. Similarly, they need to develop a purpose for reading and a reading identity, especially those who have not found success with reading in the past. One way to do this is with a reading workshop approach, where students choose their books. Franzak spends the end of her paper discussing educational policy around literacy, and notes that standardized testing does nothing to help literacy, since it neither truly assesses reading nor promotes its instruction. My overall take-away from this extensive article is that literacy instruction to improve comprehension needs to start with students seeing themselves as readers, and good readers at

Helping Students Read Test Passages 8 that. My next steps, then, will tie in carefully to reading engagement, my next topic, and make sure students have books that they will enjoy and actually read so that they will see themselves as readers. In her article “Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension,” Carol Porter-O’Donnell argues that when a text is difficult, students must really buckle down and interact with it, asking questions and finding key points. She notes that simply highlighting or underlining is not enough because many students will highlight everything they read, not showing any signs of comprehension. Instead, annotation—making notes in the margins or “a visible record of the thoughts that emerge while making sense of the text” (p.82)—is a process that students can really see and do. This interaction with the text can really help with comprehension because it aids students in metacognitively identifying areas they need to clarify and going back through the text to find answers to their questions. My overall impression of my review of the literature on comprehension is this: while strategy instruction can be useful and needs to be implemented—especially when modeled and explained—engagement in reading as a part of identity is also a key piece of getting students to try to read and improve at reading and is therefore also critical to comprehension.

Component 3: Engagement Reading engagement is a difficult topic to navigate because motivation and engagement are self-reported phenomena. Many researchers have studied motivation in a general context and more and more are beginning to look at reading motivation in particular. The following studies are a sampling of this research.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 9 John T. Guthrie, one of the biggest names in the recent scholarship on reading engagement, published an article in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy in 1997, along with his colleagues Solomon Alao and Jennifer Rinehart. Their research focuses on motivation, since they recognize that students who are not motivated are unlikely to do anything well. They find that most students spend so little time reading during their free time that they are not gaining the reading skills they need to succeed in school. Interestingly, the researchers separate the terms “motivation” and “engagement,” stating that engaged readers have motivational goals, like reading for a purpose or believing in their ability to learn from the text and use their cognitive skills to understand the reading. The way their study means to improve reading engagement in the classroom is with Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI). The CORI theory states that there are seven themes that lead to increased student motivation: real-world observation, conceptual theory, strategy instruction, self-directed learning, collaboration, self-expression, and coherence. The reason I find CORI most interesting is that the authors specifically say that CORI is related to strategy instruction, but also increases the motivational factor around those strategies. So above all, strategies must be taught in a context that connects them to the real world and allows for collaboration, self-direction, and self-expression. In an article geared specifically toward students with low academic motivation (Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000), one interesting point that the authors make is the distinction between “catch” and “hold” in student interest—activities that seem “fun,” like puzzles and computer programs, catch student attention, but only meaningfulness and involvement will really hold their attention. Importantly, they distinguish between individual interest and situational interest. Teachers cannot control what individuals are interested in, but they can try to create “situational interest” in their subjects and in their classrooms; that is, teachers must find things in the material

Helping Students Read Test Passages 10 that are most likely to connect with students and then allow them to interact with that material in a way that will engage them, e.g. group work or peer collaboration. The authors then tie interest into motivation, first noting that interest is an important part of intrinsic motivation. Then they explain that though other studies have said that extrinsic rewards detract from intrinsic motivation, they find that, especially in seemingly unmotivated students, some extrinsic motivators are appropriate and helpful. Extrinsic motivation is especially helpful when it is not on a small scale for short activities but tied into long-term engagement and useful feedback on performance. Performance goals (based on markers of success like grades) may also help spark interest in unmotivated students, though more highly motivated students may do better with mastery goals (proficiency in a topic or subject). My work, then, must engage students in reading, not just in the situation of the test; although, in the end, performance goals around the test may also be useful. Some research revolves around that elusive quality of intrinsic motivation. Studies seek to discover what makes students intrinsically motivated and high-achieving. My purpose would be to find out how to replicate these qualities in other students. Frank Pajares (2001) has found (in correlation, not causation) that students with this internal drive are optimistic and selfconfident. While some students are naturally optimistic and self-confident, Pajares also stresses the connection between positive psychology and motivation—making people happy will make them motivated. This leads me to think I may have success in reading with some students if I increase their confidence in their ability to succeed by providing a variety of books on different levels and topics. Conceptual Framework

Helping Students Read Test Passages 11 The way I see it so far, to make students motivated to read test passages and able to comprehend test passages, I need to:
1) 2) 3)

Get students engaged in reading overall Encourage the use of comprehension strategies Increase student investment in testing success by making them feel like

they will do well At this point, I would like to take a moment to define the terms above that will be most critical to the rest of my work on this project. Investment, engagement, and motivation are all very closely related as far as I am concerned. The differences are as follows: investment is a student’s “buy-in” or commitment to a particular subject or task. Engagement is active interest in something, whereas motivation is more hypothetical—a student could be generally motivated to succeed in my class but not engaged on a particular day. So, I want my students to be motivated to read, invested in testing, and engaged in their activities on any given day. Comprehension strategies are particular ways of reading or thinking about text that are taught explicitly to students with the aim of having them better understand the text. A strategy should attempt to clarify what “good readers” do at a conscious or subconscious level as they read. My primary focus in strategy use will be on text annotation, which I will define as making notes and marks in the text other than just underlining or highlighting. Testing will refer to a situation where the students work individually and silently on a formal assessment. Testing will be in the form of reading passages with multiple choice questions and occasionally short responses. The test I am working towards is the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) and I will be working with materials

Helping Students Read Test Passages 12 that replicate its style and testing stems (McGraw-Hill, 2010). I also refer to the DC-BAS, which is a practice test produced by Discovery Education to mimic the DC-CAS. In many ways, motivation seems to be the key behind all three of my research subcategories. Students need to motivated to read, motivated to test, and if they are, they will be more likely to comprehend text—just reading the whole passage would increase their comprehension, since many of them skim or skip passages. The three tenets of my research align with expectancy-value theory of motivation. The article “Assessing Motivation to Read” (Gambrell, Palmer, Codling, & Mazzoni, 1996) provides a nice summary of J. Eccles’s 1983 work on the theory. In short, Eccles argues that motivation is a combination of expectancy—if a person expects to succeed—and value—how attractive the person considers the task. If I can get students to believe that they are good readers, good test-takers, and capable of success on the DC-CAS, half the battle will be won. I need to convince them that their work on this test is worthwhile so that they value it even if they do not find it fun or amusing. Concept Map
Expectan cy-value Text annotatio n Comprehension: ability to understand reading

Engagement: interest in and willingness to read Student selfpercepti on as reader
Testing investment impacts engagement with passages

Testing: assessment, with an emphasis on reading investme nt

Helping Students Read Test Passages 13 Research Context and Methods At my school, 99% of students are black, and about 64% qualify for free or reduced lunch. All of my students this year are black. Many students are from difficult neighborhoods or household situations. Of my students, the average grade level equivalent for reading was 6.75 at the beginning of this year. I teach 10th grade, so most of my students are 15 or 16 years old. By January, the average reading level had increased to 7.45. Having defined my categories of research, I will now give specifics on the interventions I used to try to improve students’ reading of test passages. My engagement strategies include using positive messages about student abilities and increasing student choice in non-test reading. My comprehension strategy is working with students on text annotation and increasing their engagement in it by incentivizing the use of annotation. The ideas for these strategies come from various elements of the literature review, and lead into several research questions:

What effect does engagement in independent reading have on test passage engagement? How does student confidence and good self-image affect success on tests? How does student interaction with a text affect scores on related questions?

• •

The interventions I decided on were varied, then, to approach all of these factors individually. After all, getting students to read is a very complicated issue and I do not think that one type of intervention in isolation would have the impact I am hoping for. Specifically, I rewarded students for using text annotation, I gave students various positive messages about their abilities and successes, and I got student-friendly books for independent reading. These interventions took place between late March and early April of 2010; the DC-CAS started on April 19th, so all data was complete about a week before that.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 14 The first intervention I did was to begin a campaign of positivity and confidence boosting for students about the test. My strategies included posters that read “You are brilliant!” and “You are smart. You are prepared. Blast the CAS!” I also started writing notes at the bottom of their weekly worksheets saying things like “smash the CAS!” and “I’m so proud of you!” I spoke often in class about how the students were working hard and they were definitely ready for the test. To gauge the effect of these messages, I took a student confidence survey that included the following questions: • • • Are you a good test-taker? Explain. Do you think Ms. Holoman believes you will pass the DC-CAS? Explain. On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you that you will pass the DC-CAS?

I triangulated the responses of these questions with other test data I have that shows whether the students are typically successful test-takers. My next intervention was targeted to engage students in independent reading. To show data on providing high-interest independent reading books for the students, I got student input on which books in particular they would want to read. I purchased a number of new books for the classroom that were specifically of interest to my students. My data includes a list of available books to document my attempt at securing interesting books. Other sources of data were students’ reading journals, where they wrote daily reactions to their reading that day, and interviews asking them if they are interested in their books and reading generally. I put a lot of hope into to seeing a big impact here; several sources in the literature review (McClaskey, Guthrie et al.) suggest that increasing engagement in real-world reading is the only way to get students engaged in tested reading.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 15 The final intervention I worked on was incentivizing text annotation. I collected the following kinds of data to support the effectiveness of this intervention: field notes of student observations, the annotated papers themselves as artifacts, and the students’ scores on the comprehension questions. The field notes and papers will serve as documentation of the intervention, and cross-referencing the students’ amount of annotation with their scores and survey answers will show its effectiveness. As an incentive for annotation, annotation is tied into the students’ grade on the assignment. Students get half of their credit from answering the questions and the other half from annotation. Thus students have an extrinsic reward and a performance goal to motivate them to annotate the text, which I hoped would lead to increased scores on the questions. My overall goal is that the students read the passage, and they cannot accurately annotate if they do not read, so in theory incentivizing annotation would be effective on their reading.

Data Collection 1. Student Confidence After my campaign of positive messages as described in my research methods, to assess student confidence, I gave a three-question survey (the questions are outlined above). I decided their answers would be the best way to find out how they really felt about the upcoming test. I note that there is a threat to validity in that students may have overstated their confidence levels, knowing that I want them to be confident on the test and therefore trying to please me with the “correct” answer. I do not have a specific way to address this threat, since self-report is the most reliable way I know to find out how students feel. However, I did tell the students that the surveys would not be graded in any way and I asked them to be honest, so that is one attempt to

Helping Students Read Test Passages 16 address that threat. I would also like to dismiss the threat to a certain extent because in the end, many students reported that they did not, in fact, consider themselves to be good test-takers. A fuller analysis of this data follows. Of all the survey responses, roughly half of the students (22 out of 52) reported that they were good test-takers. The other half said “sometimes” or even just “no,” in almost all cases citing various reasons. Interestingly, though, when asked about the DC-CAS specifically, almost all the students seem relatively confident that they will succeed. On a scale of one to ten, only one student responded with less than five to the question “how sure are you that you will pass the DC-CAS?” (That student happens to be one of the most successful test-takers I have, and her other answers on the survey were inconsistent with that answer, leading me to believe she may have inverted the meaning of the scale.) Here is the full breakdown of the data on this question, although the numbers do not total 52 since a few did not respond to the last question, perhaps for lack of time. Confidence, from 1-10, of passing the DCCAS 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 Number of students reporting 2 4 9 16 5 11 1

Helping Students Read Test Passages 17 The table shows that the plurality of students is, in one way of describing it, 80% confident in passing the DC-CAS. In fact, only fifteen students are less than 80% sure they will pass! This is a remarkably high number for a group of which half see themselves as poor testtakers. The other question, whether the students think that I think they will pass the DC-CAS, is most subject to the aforementioned “please the teacher” threat to validity, since it is about me. All but one student replied with varying degrees of enthusiasm that yes, they think I believe they will pass the DC-CAS. The one exception was a student who said, “I don’t know.” This unanimity may be in part due to the desire to make me happy, but such overwhelming results somewhat override that threat to validity. So, one major finding from the student confidence survey seems to be that students are, generally, confident about their upcoming reading test. However, the survey does not speak to whether or not their confidence is justified. There are a lot of interesting conclusions that can come from these answers compared to how students have typically done with practice tests like the DC-BAS. Will students actually do as well as they think they will? I cross-referenced some student answers with previous test scores. Though I hope that all the students will do better on this test than they did on the practice test, it is interesting to see how their answers correlate with previous performance. The practice test itself is not available for the appendix because it was produced by a standardized company and the materials are not available to teachers. However, the score data was released and has been very interesting to break down. Some students are very accurate (based on past performance) in their self-perception. Here are some examples of students who seem to know whether or not they are likely to pass (Note: passing is generally known throughout the school as proficient or advanced):

Helping Students Read Test Passages 18 Student Name Student response: Are you a good test-taker? Student response: On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you you will pass? yes and no because I like 7 to use what I leanred [sic] but then I’m a lazy person Score on practice test (below basic, basic, proficient, or advanced) Proficient Analysis



Yes I am an iteligent [sic] student






Sometimes I can be a 6 good test-taker and do all the testing strategies, but if the test is too long and may get off task. Sure. I think I am a good 8 test-taker. But now & days I have been getting dumb. I try to take my time. But sometimes I rush when time is running. But I read the Q’s first to see what it is & if the passage is not long I would find the answer to save time No because I don’t like 5 readg [sic] long passages



Marie has gotten F’s for two of the three quarters so far this year because she does not do her work, but if she takes the time to read the test, she probably will pass, so she is right on target with her responses. Despite the irony of his spelling of “iteligent,” Kyle is a smart and successful student generally and will most likely pass the test. Based on the results I have seen this year, Tykia is absolutely accurate in her selfreport. She will need to try hard if she wants to pass. Janai is actually a very smart student, but the data shows that she is experiencing a lack of confidence about herself as a person rather than a testtaker. She will almost certainly pass the test, and is underselling herself a little with the 8. Chris is accurate in that his test could really go either way. He reads at a high enough level to succeed, but needs to try reading the passages if he wants to do better than basic.


Helping Students Read Test Passages 19 Some students have seemingly inaccurate pictures of their own performance on tests. Whether they are generally high-scoring and underestimate their abilities or generally low-scoring and yet overly confident, some students have opinions of themselves that the other data do not support. Examples of these inconsistent responses follow. Student Name Student response: Are you a good test-taker? Student response: On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you you will pass? 9 Score on practice test (below basic, basic, proficient, or advanced) Advanced Analysis


Not a reading test because I can’t read long stories


Yes i am a good testtaker because i use some of the test-taking strategies i know

I am positive that I will pass the DC-CAS

Below basic


No, because I don’t like test [sic] and sometimes I forget what I’ve learned



TarJee will almost certainly pass the test. Her statement that she is not good at reading tests is inaccurate; she reads on grade level and has been proficient or better for the past three years (according to school data.) I think it is great that Eryk has gotten the positive messaging that I have been sending, but he reads at a 6th grade level and has not scored above basic in the past three years (according to school data). It will be a stretch for him to pass, so he is overly confident. India’s answers are hard to interpret; on the one hand, she does not think she is a good test-taker, but in the interview I did with her she talked about good testing strategies she uses. On the other hand, she put 8 out of 10 that she will pass, but she did not pass the practice test. It will be interesting to see if she passes, but she reads on a 5th grade level, so it may be difficult for

Helping Students Read Test Passages 20 her. Some students, like TarJee, have gotten the message that they can pass this particular test, but they have not changed their opinions about themselves as people. Statements like “I’m bad at reading” take a lot of work to correct, and hopefully if students continue to have encouraging teachers they will change their minds.

2. Independent reading One of the factors I was trying to increase was investment in reading overall rather than specifically test passages. For evidence of whether students were enjoying reading, I took several student interviews. While I was concerned about validity because students might not want to tell the truth when speaking with me directly, I am able to triangulate some of this data with their book selections and independent reading journals. The first part of this intervention was to introduce new books into the classroom library to attempt to engage more students with the new material. I polled the students for titles, authors, or genres of books they would like me to get for the independent reading library. I just did this by asking for suggestions verbally or written down, and recorded the suggestions that they called out immediately. Many were interested in more urban fiction (“books about people like me,” one student said); others requested easier books; some wanted sports books; a few wanted another book in the Clique series by Lisi Harrison. I then went to the bookstore and got a wide variety of new titles and reading levels. For a full list of new titles, see the appendix. Were I to repeat this experiment, I would take data on which of these books were picked up most often (perhaps the number of times it was read throughout the week); however, I can say anecdotally that most of the new books were read by one student in at least one block every day. The most

Helping Students Read Test Passages 21 popular books were Precious, the Sharon Draper books, and The Outsiders. I even had to buy another copy of Precious because I had a student who could not bear to wait to read it. On these anecdotal notes, I claim that making sure students get a say in what reading material is available to them as well as providing new, fresh material is definitely effective in engaging students in reading. To triangulate this assertion, I also have samples from the students’ reading journals. I took a selection of students from my first block class and copied what they wrote in their daily reading journals. One day they responded to the prompt, “Write a one to two sentence critique of your book,” (this was in conjunction with our lesson on the difference between summary and critique) and another day they were to write a short summary of what was happening currently in their book. I take the critique as evidence of the students’ like or dislike of their book and the summary as evidence of their engagement with it; while neither piece of evidence is foolproof, it is unlikely that students lie in their reading journals because they are fairly personal records and not graded for content or accuracy but rather completion, and students who are engaged in their books are able to write summaries while students who are not really reading during reading time generally have only vague ideas of what their books are about. Generally, it seems that the students were reading the new books. Out of the nine journals I sampled, only two were not reading new books. However, I do not think that having a new book automatically leads to engagement—one of the students (Benjamin) reading a new graphic novel the first day dropped it to read a sports magazine the next day instead. In spite of this, all nine students said they liked their independent reading books, so at least at some point they felt engaged with them. Meanwhile, it seems fairly clear to me that Khadijah, for example, was not reading her book very carefully or at all the second day because she failed to complete her summary journal entry. All

Helping Students Read Test Passages 22 the other students included some details in their summaries, ranging from the more vague and questionable—Arnice wrote “Theres [sic] drama and a lot of commotion. The friends are turning on each other. Her bf is lying to her”—to the specific details that indicate definite engagement, like Jasmin’s “In today’s reading, Kiara takes Andy’s lil brother Monty to her school cookout to get the death of Andy of [sic] their minds. They played games, grilled foods (hamburgers and hot dogs) and had fun.” The rest of the students’ entries are in the appendix. Overall, this data indicates that students were engaging with their books, though it was less dependent on whether the book was new or not than on other factors like general interest level. To further triangulate student feelings on reading engagement, I took student volunteers to record an interview about their independent reading experience. A potential threat to validity is that students who are not engage might be less likely to volunteer, and I cannot disagree with that. However, not all the students who I did interview were overwhelmingly positive about their experience, so this convinces me that students feel comfortable speaking honestly with me and that the interviews still provide good data. One person I spoke with was India, who stated in her confidence survey that she does not like tests. She scored basic on the practice test and reads at a 5th grade level. She had been reading one of the new books in the library (Who Am I Without Him by Sharon G. Flake), and I wanted to find out if it increased her engagement in reading. She said that, yes, she liked it, and proceeded to give a detailed account of what she had read. (For a full transcript of all the interviews, see the appendix.) I take the fact that she was able to recall many details as evidence that she was, in fact, engaged in the text because I cannot monitor all students’ reading at the same time, so if a student is not engaged, he or she is most likely just staring at the book and not really reading it. A threat to the validity of my interventions is that she could usually be engaged in reading, so her engagement would not be any comment on my

Helping Students Read Test Passages 23 interventions. To combat this threat, I asked India when she did most of her reading to try to ascertain if the classroom strategies were helping her. Our interchange went as follows: Me: Ok. Um, and when do you, do you usually read, when do you usually read the most? Like, in class or— India: In class. Me: --outside class…In class? India: I don’t read at home. Me: Why not? India: (pause) I don’t know. I be tired of school when I get home. I take this as evidence that the books I have provided and structured reading time I enforce are important components of making India more engaged in reading overall. Here is an example of another student in a similar situation as India. I have trouble finding books Joe likes, and he scored basic on the practice test. Me: Do you usually read every day? Joe: Um, not til I got in Ms. Holoman class. Joe is not a consistent reader, and though I think he was trying to make me sound good (knowing I was taping the interview), he does read in class, so he is more engaged because of my interventions than he might be otherwise. Other students, like Janai, who scored advanced on the practice test and reads on grade level, are also engaged in reading but are more likely to have been engaged in reading in the first place. Students who enjoyed reading before they got to my class also seem to appreciate the new book selection. Here are examples of conversations with some of these students: Me: Good. And, um, do you feel like reading in class helps your reading level? Janai: Yes. Because they say that if you read 15 minutes a day, something like that, you’ll get smarter, or you could read better. Me: Ok. And…generally, do you like to read? Janai: Yes. Me: …Can you tell me a little bit about [the new book you started]?

Helping Students Read Test Passages 24 Kierra: Um…it’s about a little boy named Gabe—Gabriel? I don’t know. But I call him G. And his mother used to be a prostitute and one day his mother left him in the house, and he was playing with matches, and the house caught on fire. So his mother went to jail, and he started living with his aunt, and he called the aunt Queen, but then the aunt had, the mother got out of jail, and never told the boy his mother got out of jail, til recently when she died, and then the boy live with his mother now, and he ain’t want to. It was his little sister Angel, and his mother, and his mother boyfriend named Jordan used to molest his little sister Angel. Me: Oh my. Kierra: And the little sister Angel wouldn’t never tell nobody, cause the man Jordan used to always threaten he would kill everybody in the family. But G found out what happened, and he told another man but then told [indecipherable] but then the man [indecipherable] G convince the police the man Jordan did something wrong. Recently I just read the police locked Jordan up. Now the mother in denial, she don’t want to believe her kids, and now she in there yelling at her kids. Me: Very interesting. So you like this book? Kierra: Uh huh. [affirmative] Me: On a scale of one to ten what would you give it? Kierra: Right now it’s like a seven but I didn’t finish reading yet, so I don’t know. Like India, Kierra also spent a long time describing details of her book, which I take as evidence of her engagement with it. However, Kierra is a voracious reader, so I think just having a lot of student-friendly books in the classroom is the best way to keep her engaged.

3. Text annotation My last intervention was to incentivize annotation of text. The literature said that annotation ensures that students read and interact with the text. For my intervention, I wanted to give them a good reason to annotate and see if that helped with reading the whole passage, so I gave them a practice passage and I told the students that half of their grade on the assignment would be a result of their efforts with annotation and the other half would be for getting the answers correct. The obvious threat to validity here is that some students may not be motivated by their grades. Anecdotally, I can say that most of my students are very concerned with their

Helping Students Read Test Passages 25 grades, at least to the point that they want to pass, which would have to be more than 50% on the assignment. Of course, some are not, and that is a concern that I cannot really address with this particular intervention. However, I saw a range of reactions to the assignment, so I think it was an effective motivator for some students. For example, here is a piece of a student conversation that occurred just as the students were starting the activity. I quickly typed it up at that time so that I would have their exact words. Daytonia: Do we have to annotate? Jazmine: You don’t have to… Me: You do if you want to get a 100. Quinn: Oh, well I’m about to get my 100. (begins annotating) --March 2, 2010, 10:30 a.m. Quinn is a clear example of a student for whom the grade was an effective incentive for annotation and, subsequently, engagement in the text. One key point of this intervention is that I am taking the students’ success on the test questions and their annotations as evidence that they did read the text. Since one question involved details from the text and the other involved the main idea, students would have had to read the paragraph with the details and the whole passage to get both questions right. While they could have guessed, making the data less reliable, I find it more likely that when students annotated and then got the questions right, they were genuinely interacting with the text as they read. To judge the effectiveness of annotation, I will just describe the annotations I saw; for examples, see the scans of their work in the appendix. There were two questions with the reading. By “no annotation,” I mean that there was no marking in the text or at best one sentence with underlining. “Annotation” refers to multiple examples of underlining, note-taking, circling, etc. within the body of the text.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 26 Number of questions correct and use of annotation 2, annotation 2, no annotation 1, annotation 1, no annotation 0, annotation 0, no annotation Number of students in this category 25 3 14 0 3 4 Average reading level of students in this category 8.3 8.7 7.8 n/a 5.1 6.45

Interestingly, the annotation seemed to be an effective strategy for many students. But I cannot truly judge its effectiveness because some students would have gotten both questions right even without annotating. The students who used the annotation varied widely in reading level. Some students did not annotate the text and did not get the questions right. This is a logical result based on the point of the intervention. Those students read on a level that is, on average, lower than that of their peers, so their lack of annotation may have occurred because they did not understand the text, but it could also be due to unwillingness to use more effort on the assignment or lack of motivation. Some students did appropriate annotation but still got the questions wrong. This is obviously disappointing, but not completely unexpected; people will always make mistakes. Interestingly, these students read on an even lower level than their peers who did not annotate and did not get the questions right; perhaps their level is so low that no strategy will really help them read a text that is fundamentally above their level. Some students got both questions right but did not annotate very much. These students generally have high reading levels—on average, higher than any of their peers, even those who got both questions right and did use annotation. This leads me to an interesting conclusion—that perhaps students with high reading levels should not be forced to try strategies that might distract

Helping Students Read Test Passages 27 them from using the reading and comprehension talents they have already developed. This would require more differentiation of activities in the classroom. I find it strange that more of these students were not motivated by the grade attached to the assignment, but I suppose that since this was the first time I graded an assignment in this way perhaps they did not understand the extent to which I would value annotations. Some students did a lot of annotating and got both questions right. Whether this was causation or these students just wanted the grade for annotation but could have gotten the questions right without it is impossible to say. But the more of these students that fall into this last category, the better, and if causation is a factor as the literature leads me to believe, then I think the intervention was effective. An alternate way to interpret the data, though, is to say that since the vast majority of students who got both questions right did use annotation, forcing students to annotate is effective and appropriate. I think by including the students’ reading levels in the comparison, though, my analysis is actually more refined and helpful to individual students.

Findings I had three major goals in this research project, and I will discuss my findings for each separately. They were: • • Increase student confidence so that they will engage in reading the test passages Increase student engagement with reading in other contexts so that the reading on the test will seem easier • Increase student use of reading strategies so that they will be more likely to engage in reading the test passages

Helping Students Read Test Passages 28 Overall, I cannot speak very much on whether or not students are actually going to read the whole passages on the test. One flaw in this proposal is that I cannot judge how students will react to the test before they actually take the test, which is after the deadline for this paper. No practice scenario has the gravitas of the real testing day. Another major regret I have about my findings is that I did not foresee the need for a specific type of data that would lead me more solidly to my conclusions. In retrospect, I know that I should have created a reading passage with questions that could help assess whether or not students actually were reading the whole thing. At the very least, I should have done more interviews or surveys asking students if they read the entire passage on specific assignments. However, when I designed this project I focused more on how to implement and measure the intervention strategies than how to measure their results. Were I to do this research again, I would make sure to design these two aspects to work together. So instead of trying to draw conclusions about whether or not my students will read the testing passages, which would be no more than predictions, I will analyze the success of the implementation of each of the aforementioned interventions and trust to the literature that inspired them that they will have a positive effect when testing day finally arrives.

Intervention 1: Increase student confidence so that they will engage in reading the test passages With all the practicing we did and all the positive messaging I was giving the students in class, I think this was an effective intervention. On the student confidence survey, nearly all the students were at least an 8 on the scale of 1 to 10 for confidence they would pass the DC-CAS. Since most students are confident, they are more likely to read passages and pass tests. While

Helping Students Read Test Passages 29 this intervention was not entirely successful in changing students’ ideas about themselves as testtakers generally (rather than for this test specifically) and students were not always entirely accurate in their self-perception as compared to past successes, the point got across that I believe in them and that they are ready for this test. If the literature on test fatigue and test investment is reliable, this will be a successful intervention. Intervention 2: Increase student engagement with reading in other contexts so that the reading on the test will seem easier This intervention was somewhat successful. Though all the students I interviewed said they were enjoying their independent reading books, classroom experience tells me that not every student will be engaged in reading every day. The key take-away from this intervention, as far as I am concerned, is that getting new books is one way to mix up reading in class. The new books may increase the overall number of students who are engaged in their books. And the more students that are engaged in reading on a day-to-day basis, the more students will read on test day because they are familiar with the habit. Intervention 3: Increase student use of reading strategies so that they will be more likely to engage in reading the test passages While text annotation correlated with success on test questions (which I take as evidence of having read the text) for some students, others were able to read and answer the questions correctly without this intervention. So my finding is that it would be most effective to pretest the students, allow those who score high without annotation to do other enrichment activities, and work with the rest on specific annotation strategies. The incentivizing of annotation by including it in the grade was fairly effective, but I would also suggest trying other incentives—perhaps immediate ones like candy or stickers so that students feel rewarded for the work of annotation.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 30

Conclusions and Implications Through all of the interventions I tried with this research, along with the multitude of other test preparation materials I prepared and taught, my biggest realization is that getting students to care about and pass a standardized test is a mammoth undertaking and cannot be approached in one single way. My favorite part of this project was that I got to try a variety of strategies to get students ready for the test. I learned that I really enjoy talking one-on-one with students about what they are learning, and that it can be very informative for my teaching. I think that small group or individual tutoring outside of class would be an excellent strategy to focus on next year. Students could be grouped homogenously according to their needs and those small groups could learn strategies or content or both. I wish that I had spent more time trying to differentiate my approach with the test-taking strategies for different students. I am glad that I was able to get such a variety of new books and see students of all reading levels and interests pick up those books. In many ways, this study confirmed what I already knew, which is that the more students are invested in the test, the better they will do on it. Investment is a key lever of success in any class and on any assignment, so of course the same applies to the practice exercises I used in my research. My biggest surprise of the research was how highly confident students are that they will pass the DC-CAS. I would have thought that past data I have given them (practice test scores, class scores) would have discouraged them, because I have been pushing them pretty hard this year. So I was happily surprised to see the positive results of my intervention—that most of the students were fairly certain they would pass this test.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 31 Since one of my biggest areas of concern is the use of reading strategies, I think one question that went unanswered and would be interesting to pursue is, what strategies are actually the most effective in getting students to understand the reading passage? Moreover, are these the same strategies that would get students the most engaged in the reading passage? For example, if a student writes text-to-self connections in the margins of the passage, she might be engaged in the text, but does that necessarily mean that she understands it? I would like to know the values of the various reading strategies that I encourage my students to use. This goes hand in hand with the biggest part of my project that I did not have time to take on—what methods are best for teaching reading strategies? I wanted to use the teacher models and group practice methods described in some of the literature I read, but I had already taught my students the basics of the strategies I wanted to reinforce and my test preparation schedule did not allow for repetition of strategy mini-lessons. But I would like to see the effect of certain ways of learning to annotate or use the other strategies mentioned in the literature. In the end, I cannot make any great claims about how to get students to read test passages, but I can say my students are enjoying reading more than they used to, they are engaging in text more than they used to, and they feel confident about their upcoming test. With a group of kids who came in more than three years under grade level in reading, I would say they have a fighting chance on this test, and that’s a success for me.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 32 Works Cited Ackerman, P. L., & Kanfer, R. (2009). Test Length and Cognitive Fatigue: An Empirical Examination of Effects on Performance and Test-Taker Reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology . Alfassi, M. (2004). Reading to Learn: Effects of Combined Strategy Instruction on High School Students. The Journal of Education Research , 171-184. Bereiter, C., & Bird, M. (1985). Use of Thinking Aloud in Identification and Teaching of Reading Comprehension Strategies . Cognition and Instruction , 131-156. Caverly, D., Mandeville, T., & Nicholson, S. (1995). Plan: A Study-Reading Strategy for Informational Text. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , 190-199. Doscher, M.-L., & Bruno, J. E. (1981). Simulation of Inner-City Standardized Testing Behavior: Implications for Instructional Evaluation. American Educational Research Journal , 475489. Franzak, J. K. (2006). Zoom: A Review of the Literature on Marginalized Adolescent Readers, Literacy Theory, and Policy Implications. Review of Educational Research , 209-248. Gambrell, L. B., Palmer, B. M., Codling, R. M., & Mazzoni, S. A. (1996). Assessing Motivation to Read. The Reading Teacher , 518-533. Guthrie, J. T., Alao, S., & Rinehart, J. M. (1997). Literacy Issues in Focus: Engagement in Reading for Young Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , 438-446 . Hidi, S., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2000). Motivating the Academically Unmotivated: A Critical Issue for the 21st Century. Review of Educational Research , 151-179. McClaskey, J. (2001, September). Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad TAAS? Rethinking Our Response to Standardized Testing. The English Journal , 88-96.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 33 McGraw-Hill. (2010). District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System Resource Guide: 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2010, from OSSE Web site: Pajares, F. (2001). Toward a Positive Psychology of Academic Motivation. The Journal of Educational Research , 27-35. Porter-O’Donnell, Carol. (2004). Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension. The English Journal, 82-89. Yaffe, D., Coley, R. J., & Pliskin, R. E. (2009). Addressing Achievement Gaps: Educational Testing in America: State Assessments, Achievement Gaps, National Policy and Innovations. Princeton: Educational Testing Service.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 34 Appendix A List of newly acquired independent reading books and their reading levels
Title Tears of a Tiger Forged By Fire Darkness Before Dawn Push The Outsiders The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Michael Jordan Shaquille O’Neal 20th Century Boys Milkweed The Amber Spyglass In Odd We Trust Angelfish Hit and Run Stone Virgin It’s Not Easy Being Mean Project UFO Happy Birthday, Author Sharon Draper Sharon Draper Sharon Draper Sapphire S.E. Hinton Nancy Farmer C.S. Lewis Genre Young adult fiction Young adult fiction Young adult fiction Fiction Young adult fiction Young adult fiction/adventure Fantasy Lexile score* 700 780 670 No data available 750 660 940

Nicholas Edwards Richard Brenner Naoki Urasawa Jerry Spinelli Phillip Pullman Dean Koontz Laurence Yep Lurlene McDaniel Barry Unsworth Lisi Harrison R.A. Montgomery Valerie Tripp

Sports Sports Graphic novel Historical fiction Fantasy Graphic novel Young adult fiction Young adult fiction Adult fiction Young adult fiction Choose your adventure American Girl

810 950 No data available 510 950 440 570 610 No data available 770 650 640

Helping Students Read Test Passages 35
Samantha Fast Food Nation Shooting Stars Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates Make the Connection Who Am I Without Him? Eric Schlosser LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger Robert C. Richie Adult non-fiction Sports History 1240 No data available No data available

Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey Sharon G. Flake

Self-help Young adult fiction/short stories

950 650

*The Lexile of a book is a measure of its difficulty. See the table below for grade level equivalencies, from

Typical Reader and Text Measures, by Grade
Grade Reader Measures (Interquartile Range, MidYear) 25th-75th percentile Up to 300L 140L to 500L 330L to 700L 445L to 810L 565L to 910L 665L to 1000L 735L to 1065L 805L to 1100L 855L to 1165L 905L to 1195L 940L to 1210L Text Measures (from the Lexile Map) 25th-75th percentile 200L to 400L 300L to 500L 500L to 700L 650L to 850L 750L to 950L 850L to 1050L 950L to 1075L 1000L to 1100L 1050L to 1150L 1100L to 1200L 1100L to 1300L

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and 12

Helping Students Read Test Passages 36 Appendix B Full transcripts of interviews with students about their independent reading experiences Me: India, what’s your book called? India: Who Am I…Who Am I Without Him. Me: And who’s it by? India: Sharon G. Flake. Me: And when did you start reading it? India: Yesterday. Me: And do you like it so far? India: Yes. Me: Can you tell me a little about it? India: Um. The first book was about the girl, and she [indecipherable] and she had a boyfriend, everybody likin’ him cause he was on the basketball team and he was the cutest boy in school. And then, it was some quiet girls at the bus stop with her. And they, they ain’t never say nothing to her, but one of them liked her boyfriend. And then she got on the bus, her boyfriend made her get on the bus. The quiet girl got on the bus first, and she slipped out the back door and got off the bus with the girl’s boyfriend. Me: Ooh! India: And that’s when the girl, um, the girl wanted to fight her. She just went to school and the boy had a test in the next class, and she told the teacher he was sick. She didn’t think he wanted to break up with her. Me: Good! Um…So you read all that yesterday? How many pages do you think that was? You can guess. India: It was like four pages…five pages…cause it’s like short stories in here. Me: Ok. Um, and when do you, do you usually read, when do you usually read the most? Like, in class or— India: In class. Me: --outside class…In class?

Helping Students Read Test Passages 37 India: I don’t read at home. Me: Why not? India: (pause) I don’t know. I be tired of school when I get home. Me: Ok. That’s fair. Thank you. So when you get to class are you ready to read? Do you usually like to read? India: If I like the book, but if I don’t like the book, if it’s not interesting, I don’t want to read it. Me: Ok. And, uh, not talking about independent reading, but, on, like, the DC-CAS and stuff, do you usually read the whole passage? India: Yeah, cause I gotta understand what’s going on. Me: Do you use any, like, strategies or anything while you read it? India: Yeah, I underline the…the most important stuff, like that I need to remember, and that I think would be in the questions. Me: I’ve seen that, you do do that. Well, that’s good. Do you think that reading in class, like, affects the way you take the DC-CAS at all? India: Yeah, it help us out…it help us practice reading in class…so that we could, um, read, do the stories on the DC-CAS. Me: That’s great. Alright, thanks, India.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 38

Me: So, Janai, what kind of books have you been reading in this class this year? Janai: Most of the time I read books related to my life experiences. Like, more fictional books. Me: Ok. Do you remember any of the titles? Janai: Yeah, it’s like, Black and White, Chasing Destiny, the…um…what’s that book called? The Eli man? Me: Night? [by Elie Wiesel] Janai: Night. That one wasn’t really about my life, but…[laughs] Me: Yeah, that’s about the Holocaust, but… [laughs] Janai: I like books like that. But, uh, it was one of the Blue…Hill…what was the name of…? Me: Oh. Um…the Bluford books? [the Bluford High Series] Janai: Yeah. I read some of those. Me: Good. And, um, do you feel like reading in class helps your reading level? Janai: Yes. Because they say that if you read 15 minutes a day, something like that, you’ll get smarter, or you could read better. Me: Ok. And…generally, do you like to read? Janai: Yes. Me: Yeah? Do you read outside of class ever? Janai: Sometimes. Like if I find a good novel I like I’ll read it. Me: Ok. Um…and the books you’ve been reading in class, have they come from my library or have you brought them in yourself? Janai: Both. Most of the time I bring books in myself, because I don’t like what everybody else like, I like what I like. Me: Ok. Um…and, like on a scale of one to ten, how much do you feel like you’re focused on reading during independent reading time? Janai: If I like the book, probably around like an eight to a nine. Me: What if you don’t like the book?

Helping Students Read Test Passages 39 Janai: It was more like a six…or something. [indecipherable for about one minute] Me: So when you are reading on a test passage or a reading passage we do, do you usually read the whole thing? Janai: If it’s long, then I look at the questions first and then see, cause sometimes it say like in paragraph 3, some questions are like that, so… Me: Questions about a certain paragraph, mmhm. Ok, thank you!

Helping Students Read Test Passages 40

Me: Joe, um, how do you feel about independent reading generally? Joe: I mean, you know, it really helps us out a lot, you know, um…it keeps you focused…and um, yeah it helps you with your reading skills a lot for the DC-CAS Me: (chuckles) Do you usually read every day? Joe: Um, not til I got in Ms. Holoman class. Me: Oy. Um, what book are you reading right now? Joe: I’m reading LeBron documentary. Me: Ok. About LeBron James. Do you like that book? Joe: Yes. And you know, it expand me as a basketball player, you know? Me: So when you read that book you feel like you’re interested in it? Joe: Yes. Because I’m an athlete myself, you know….If it’s basketball, that’s what I’m most interested in. Me: So are there other books you would want to read for independent reading besides that one? Joe: Um…there’s not any pacific [specific] books but I’m open to try new books. Me: Ok. And on a different note, when you take the DC-CAS or when you do practice passages in class, do you usually read the whole passage? Joe: No, I read the questions first, and then I go and then I skim through and look for the answers. Me: Ok, so you usually skim it? Joe: Yes. Me: Do you skim the whole thing? Joe: Yes. Me: Ok, cool. Thanks, Joe.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 41

Me: Kierra, what book are you reading? Kierra: Tears of Fire [she is actually reading Forged By Fire, the sequel to Tears of a Tiger] Me: When did you start reading that book? Kierra: Um, like three weeks ago, before spring break. Me: And that’s when the book was new to class? Kierra: Yes. No. It wasn’t new, it was old, but I started reading it after I read the first one. Me: Oh, ok, so this was like, we had the new books, and you read a new book then too, right? Kierra: Yes. Hit and Run. Me: Did you like Hit and Run? Kierra: Yes. Me: So you finished that and then you started Forged by Fire? Kierra: Yes. Me: Did you check it out of the library ever? Kierra: Yes. I read most of it out of class. Me: Have you checked out Forged by Fire at all? Kierra: No. Me: So you’re reading that mostly in class? Kierra: Yes. Me: Ok. And how’s that going for you? Can you tell me a little bit about that book? Kierra: Um…it’s about a little boy named Gabe—Gabriel? I don’t know. But I call him G. And his mother used to be a prostitute and one day his mother left him in the house, and he was playing with matches, and the house caught on fire. So his mother went to jail, and he started living with his aunt, and he called the aunt Queen, but then the aunt had, the mother got out of jail, and never told the boy his mother got out of jail, til recently when she died, and then the boy live with his mother now, and he ain’t want to. It was his little sister Angel, and his mother, and his mother boyfriend named Jordan used to molest his little sister Angel.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 42 Me: Oh my. Kierra: And the little sister Angel wouldn’t never tell nobody, cause the man Jordan used to always threaten he would kill everybody in the family. But G found out what happened, and he told another man but then told [indecipherable] but then the man [indecipherable] G convince the police the man Jordan did something wrong. Recently I just read the police locked Jordan up. Now the mother in denial, she don’t want to believe her kids, and now she in there yelling at her kids. Me: Very interesting. So you like this book? Kierra: Uh huh. [affirmative] Me: On a scale of one to ten what would you give it? Kierra: Right now it’s like a seven but I didn’t finish reading yet, so I don’t know. Me: You usually like books more or less when you finish them? Kierra: More. Me: Ok. So on a completely different note, on the DC-CAS or a testing passage, do you usually read the whole passage? Kierra: I, um, underline what I think important. Me: How do you choose what’s important? Kierra: I’ll like…some quotes…I don’t know, it just pop out to me. Me: And do you read the whole passage while you underline, or— Kierra: Yeah. Me: --jump around? Kierra: I read the whole passage. Me: Ok. And do you think that reading in class has any effect on whether or not you read what’s on the test? Kierra: Yeah. Me: Why? Kierra: Because reading in class, we had a time limit to read in class, it made me read more faster. And by me reading more faster, it made me get my information more quicker, and I don’t gotta go back to reread, unless I absolutely have to.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 43 Me: Interesting. Ok, thanks a lot, Kierra.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 44

Me: So Raymond, what are some of the books you’ve read for this class during independent reading time? R: Um, a book called Black and White, I read a book on Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and a book called uh…what’s that book… Me: You read— In unison: Tears of a Tiger. Me: And what book are you reading now? R: Shaquille O’Neal. Me: And when’d you start that book? R: About five minutes ago. Me: [laughing] Alright, so it’s new to you today. And that’s cause that’s a new book to our class, right? R: Yes ma’am. Me: What do you think about getting new books? Does that help you? R: Yes, cause I really didn’t like some of the books in here, I mostly like sports books and people be stealin the sports books. Me: That’s true, we’ve had some theft issues. So when you read a sports book, that makes you more interested in it? R: Yes. Me: Why do you think that is? R: Cause I’m a sports guy, I like all sports. Me: Ok. So, on a scale of one to ten, how interested are you in independent reading time do you think? (pause) Like how much do you like it, how much do you focus, that kind of thing. R: Bout a six? Me: Ok. Why? R: Cause sometimes when I read I get headaches because of a previous incident I had last year. I had a concussion and ever since then when I read I catch headaches and my eyes start hurting.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 45 Me: Mmhm. Um, I noticed that this book has a little larger print, does that help you or does that not really make a difference? R: Either (indecipherable). Me: Ok, so it’s any size text? (He nods) Ok. So on a slightly different note, when you read for the DC-CAS or a reading passage we do in class or anything like that, do you usually read the whole passage? R: No. Me: What do you do? R: I read the questions first, then I just look at the passage and see what I need to look for. Me: So when you’re looking at the passage, are you, like, starting at the beginning and going through it? Or do you kinda jump around? What do you usually do? R: Jump around. Like, in the passage, if it’s asking a question like, what does this word mean, I don’t read the passage, I just look around in the passage for that one word, and read probably a sentence or two before and a sentence or two after the word. Me: Ok. And do you think when we do independent reading in class, that changes the way you take a test? Or has an effect in any way? R: No. Me: No? Ok. Thanks, Raymond.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 46 Appendix C Student’s reading journal prompts in response to two days’ questions: • • Write a one or two sentence critique of your book. Summarize what is happening in your book currently.

Demel—Tears of a Tiger • • So far this book is pretty good. I like how there are so many details, but I think it is a little below my reading level. There was an accident that caused Robbie to die and Andy is taking this really hard.

Khadijah—House on Mango Street • • My book is good. Two of the characters is just going through some things right now. No entry

Chris—Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates • • My book is like a 4 star book. It grabs your attention but then it get a little boring. So far I have read about how captian kidd died and how he became a legend

Antonio—Shooting Stars • • The book is very good and a inspiring story for youth such as myself. Lebron shot a 35 footer and bounce in then out. Leaving the team in despair.

Arnice—Clique book (Revenge of the Wannabes) • • My book is a very good book and I like it and want to continue reading all the volumes Theres drama and a lot of commotion. The friends are turning on each other. Her bf is lying to her.

Cierra—Clique book (It’s Not Easy Being Mean) • • The book is good although it could be more interesting So far in my book Massie Alicia Dylan Kristen and Claire are asking boys questions so that they can find the key first to help their reputation. [I have no idea what this means]

Benjamin—20th century boys

Helping Students Read Test Passages 47 • • I think my book is good I read about the NBA and how college students put up good stats [This is about Sports Illustrated, which he picked over his book that day]

Kierra—Forged by Fire • • Forged by Fire is a really interesting book that gives us great details My book starts off with a young girl name Robin how was physically abused by her father. Robin is now in therapy and she dealing with what happen.

Jasmin—Darkness before dawn • • I began a new book today. So far I like the book. From 1-10 I would give it a 10. It makes me just want to keep reading and get lost in the details. In today’s reading, Kiara takes Andy’s lil brother Monty to her school cookout to get the death of Andy of [sic] their minds. They played games, grilled foods (hamburgers and hot dogs) and had fun.

Helping Students Read Test Passages 48 Appendix D Scans of samples of student annotation on the practice passage Claw Lock

Helping Students Read Test Passages 49

Helping Students Read Test Passages 50

Helping Students Read Test Passages 51 Appendix E Students’ scores and amount of annotation on the practice passage Claw Lock correlated with their reading levels

Both questions right, substantial annotation (25 total, 51%)
Nate Theron Briana Brittany Jerome Breyuanna Ericka Quinn Brianna Malencia PreAnn Dante Javae Raheim Jamelle Damante Alicia Rickia Yesmina Joe Chris Tykia Kyle Janai Cierra Average reading level 4.9 4.9 4.9 10 11 5.7 10.5 10.8 10.5 5.4 4.9 4.9 12.9 7.7 6 12.7 12.5 5.6 8.7 6.8 8.3 6.2 10 12 10.8 8.344

Both questions right, no annotation (3 total, 6%)
Jasmin Ben Eric 11.2 7.5 7.4

Helping Students Read Test Passages 52
Avera ge readin g level


One question right, substantial annotation (14 total, 29%)
Demel Khadijah Brian Bryana Brittney Mykell Derquacia Dashon Lorenzo Chris Eddie Duyania Jasmine Monshaniq ue Average reading level 12 7.5 9.3 3.9 4.9 7.8 4.9 8 5.4 8.3 9 11.2 7.8 8.6 7.7571 43

One question right, no annotation—No students

Zero questions right, substantial annotation (3 total, 6%)
Keivie t Chani ce Arnice Avera ge readin g level 4.9 4.9 5.6 5.1333 33

Zero questions right, no annotation (4 total, 8%)

Helping Students Read Test Passages 53
Larry Antoni o Eryk Alonzo Avera ge readin g level 5.9 7 5.9 7


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