Starting Your SOL Test Prep in September

19 July 2016
Virginia is for Teachers: Tips to Start Your SOL Test Prep in September

If the title of this post made you groan, I totally understand! It feels like it was just testing season and nobody wants to talk about it again until next spring! I know, I know. But the sooner you start thinking about the SOL tests, the more time you and your students will have to feel ready to tackle them. If you hit the ground running when school starts in August or September, you can lessen that panicky feeling you get when April rolls around and you realize how much content there is to review! There are lots of easy ways you can start preparing for the SOL tests at the beginning of the school year - and the good news is that you're probably already doing a lot of them!

Use Spiral Review Early and Often
When you hear "spiral review," you probably think about math and language arts, but you can easily do this with science and social studies, too. Since these subjects are so content- and vocabulary-heavy, it's really important to revisit them throughout the year. You can use spiral review as soon as the first day of school! It's easy to work in a few questions through morning work, stations, a Question of the Day, entrance/exit tickets, homework, or even just as a quick five-minute time-filler. Every little bit helps so that students aren't staring at you with blank faces in the middle of your SOL review!

Use a Content Word Wall

Virginia is for Teachers: Tips to Start Your SOL Test Prep in SeptemberLike most teachers, I love putting up brightly colored bulletin boards as I get my classroom ready for the year. I save one for each core subject (math, reading, writing, science, and social studies). As I teach each unit, I add vocabulary cards to the bulletin board along with anchor charts, posters, and pictures. While I usually have to change out the charts and posters because of limited space, the vocabulary cards stay up all year. They're a great reference tool for all students (especially visual and ELL learners). You can refer to them throughout the year and especially during your SOL review in the spring. You can also add a word wall for academic/testing vocabulary.

Look at Last Year's SOL Data

Looking at testing data from previous years is a great way to identify trends for your grade level or school, including areas where students have generally been strong and areas that need to be hit a little harder. While each group of students is of course different, identifying trouble spots early can help you plan your instruction more effectively.

Another idea is to look at the SOL data for your incoming students, if it's available, so you know which areas you'll need to target. You can use this data to form groups early in the year so you can begin reviewing certain content or skills well before they'll be tested in the spring.

In addition, I always spend a little extra time focusing on the areas of review suggested by the VDOE for each grade level, found {here}.

Incorporate TEI Practice

When TEI items were first added to the SOL tests, it made a lot of us pretty nervous. However, if you have an interactive whiteboard or student laptops/iPads, chances are that your students are using a lot of these TEI skills every day! Try incorporating TEI practice into lessons, assignments, review activities, and assessments so that students feel comfortable with these technological skills long before Testing Day. For ideas on where to find TEI practice websites, check out The Techie Teacher's post {here}.

Try Using SOL-Like Questions

If you create formal assessments to use with your students, consider including a few questions that mirror the questions on the SOL tests. That way, students can become familiar with the question format, testing language, and types of graphics seen on the tests. You can use just a few questions here and there so that it doesn't feel like students are taking practice SOL tests all year long!

Get Parents on Board

Already getting questions about the SOL tests before school has even started? Make sure parents are aware of the VDOE site so they can find answers to their questions. Encourage students and parents to practice good study skills at home. If you like, you can add the SOLs to your study guides, handouts, and tests so parents (and you) can quickly identify the standards for which students need extra review. (Tip: I copy all review materials on yellow paper. I tell parents this at Back-to-School Night so they know that everything yellow that comes home is important and should be saved!)

Do Your Own Review

Look over the test blueprints and practice items found on the VDOE site. With the new standards and testing changes headed our way, it's a good idea to make sure that everyone on your team knows what to expect on next year's SOL tests. Be aware of what's tested (and how) and what isn't, and that will help you in your planning during the year as well.

Disclaimer: This post isn't meant to be a list of ways to "teach to the test." I don't think every lesson should revolve around the SOL tests or that the SOLS are all you should think about as you head back to school. However, my hope is that trying some of these ideas starting at the beginning of the school year will take a little pressure off everyone come testing time. You'll still have plenty to do during your test review sessions, but (hopefully) you and your students will feel a little less frazzled because you know that you've actually been preparing all year long.

Now go enjoy the rest of your (SOL-free) summer!

Virginia is for Teachers: Tips to Start Your SOL Test Prep in September

P.S. This is my first post for the Virginia is for Teachers blog. I'm thrilled to join this amazing group of educators and learn from all of you! I have seven years of experience teaching first and fourth grade and am currently at home with my two young children. If you'd like, you can follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, or Teachers Pay Teachers, or you can contact me by email!

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Virginia is for Teachers: Tips to Start Your SOL Test Prep in September

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