I wouldn’t say writing about standardized assessment is my favorite topic, but the reality is that state mandated testing is probably here to stay—at least for a while—so today’s post discusses how reading expository nonfiction can help students meet the challenges of that testing.
Both national and state standards expect a large proportion of students’ reading and writing to be informational text. In fact, when the Common Core State Standards (National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) were first released, the education community wrestled with the question: Do the standards imply we need to teach a 50/50 split of fiction and informational texts?
I think we have since moved away from prescriptive numbers and realized there just needs to be balance. If anything, the standards brought a heightened awareness to the inclusion of informational texts in classrooms.
Standardized tests reflect this focus on balancing fiction and informational texts. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is a standardized test given to a select number of fourth graders throughout the world every five years. The PIRLS (2016) framework calls for 50% literary passages and 50% passages testing reading to acquire and use information, including texts that inform students about the world around them.
We see this same trend on state testing. Students are being asked to read and answer questions related to multiple sources of expository texts. Often these texts are challenging and complex. Students are sometimes simulating research as they read multiple pieces, analyze the information, and then synthesize what they’ve learned in a writing response.
The more exposure, modeling, and practice students have with reading, listening, and studying expository nonfiction, the better prepared they are to apply the skills in a testing situation.
In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed how repeated exposure to expository nonfiction helps students increase their vocabulary, deepen their content knowledge, and understand text features as they read. It can also serve as a model for their own writing. All of these strategies become important tools that students can access when taking standardized tests.
So even though we may not like standardized tests, it’s clear that giving students access to a rich, diverse array of nonfiction texts and teaching them how to access the information in it will help them on test day as well as in college and their future careers.
Dr. Marlene Correia is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Marlene has 15 years of experience in K-8 education as a classroom teacher and special educator. Dr. Correia has also taught undergraduate and graduate education courses at Framingham State and Bridgewater State University. She is the co-author of Informational Texts in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade- Three Classrooms. Dr. Correia is a past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association.