Rethinking Test Prep

I don’t know about you, but here in Texas we’ve got a state math test in grades 3, 4, and 5 coming up soon. The 5th grade test is taking place in mid-April followed by the 3rd and 4th grade tests in mid-May. In my school district, we used to stop instruction for one to two weeks prior to the test to focus on review. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way, and this year we changed that. If you want to read more about our rationale for doing that, I recommend reading Playing the Long Game, a post I wrote on my district blog. I also recommend checking out my Ignite talk from NCSM 2017. The work I’m sharing here has been a chance for me to put into practice the principles I shared in that talk.

If you don’t have time for all that right now and you’d rather check out the review activities I’ve created and get access to them for yourself, read on!

This year, with the help of our district instructional coaches, I put together collections of 15-20 minute spiral review activities that can be used daily for a month or so before the state test to review critical standards and prepare students without interrupting the momentum of regular math instruction. Here they are:

(Note: If you want to modify an activity, you are free to do so. Either make a copy of the file in your Google drive or download a copy to your computer. You will have full editing rights of your copy.)

When you look at an activity, it might look short. You might ask yourself, “How could this possibly take 15-20 minutes?” Good question! These activities are designed for student discourse. Students can and should be talking regularly during these activities. The goal is for students to be noticing, wondering, questioning, analyzing, sharing, and convincing  each other out loud. These discussions create opportunities to revisit concepts, clear up misconceptions, and raise awareness of the idiosyncrasies of the test questions, especially with regards to language.

Most of the activities are low or no prep, though here and there a few activities need some pages printed ahead of time. Be sure to read through an activity before facilitating it in your class so you don’t catch yourself unprepared.

Each collection of activities is organized around the Texas state standards (also known as TEKS). If you don’t live in Texas, you still might find these activities useful since there’s so much overlap between our standards and others. To help non-Texans navigate, I’ve added a column that (very) briefly describes the concept associated with each activity. If you’re interested in reading the actual TEKS each activity is aligned to, check out these documents:

If you try any of these activities out with your students, let me know how it goes in the comments. Enjoy!

21 thoughts on “Rethinking Test Prep

  1. Marcella

    Wow! This is great! I found your blog last night and this morning have already started on one of the activivites. You did a great job with this resource! I have them planned all they way until STAAR! #5thgrademathrocks

    1. bstockus Post author

      That makes me so happy! I’m glad this was so timely for you. I hope you and your students have some great conversations between now and STAAR.

  2. Maple Lai

    Amazing. Saw your post on Twitter last night. I’m a math coach CA, and teachers are starting to think about state testing prep. I appreciate how these activities promote discourse. SO much better than the typical review worksheet. Thank you.

  3. Dawn Cox

    This is AMAZING! I can’t thank you enough for sharing so many valuable resources. Everything you share is excellent, and as an Instructional Coach, it helps me help my teachers! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    1. bstockus Post author

      My pleasure! I’ve benefited (and so has my district!) so much from all the resource sharing that goes on in the Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere. I’m all too happy to return the favor. In the end, we’re all about helping students learn, and we’re all better when we work together.

  4. Kelly Rust

    These are an AMAZING resource! This Texas 3rd grade teacher will definitely be using them and sharing them with my team. Thank you for the time you spent making them and making them available for free.

  5. Shana Prugh

    Thank you so much for sharing this resource and being willing to support students (and teachers) outside of your district. These are great resources, I can’t wait to share them with my students.

  6. Nili Pearlmutter

    I just shared these with my 4th grade team and we are going to use them. I totally agree with other comments – these are wonderful, fun ways to review math concepts in a meaningful, discourse driven way. Thank you so much!!

  7. Kelli McCoy

    My students are enjoying the activity, and we’ve had fabulous math talk from using them. Thank you so much for sharing!


    We absolutely love these documents and are looking forward to using them again this year. By any chance do you know if there is an alignment between the TEKS and Next Gen Standards or Common Core?


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