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Large Scale Assessment: Stacking the Deck in Students’ Favour

by Thérèse McNamara

This week I’ve been scribing for a few students as they ‘write’ the EQAO large-scale assessment for reading, writing, and math— a series of 6 one-hour+ sessions that we spread out over 3 days.  I’m finding it to be an interesting opportunity to observe the way kids think their way through problems, describe what they are thinking, and react to the experience.  Their responses visibly reflect the many strategies our teachers have applied throughout the year to help ‘stack the deck’ and get our kids ready for success.

Let me share some of our approaches— you may find an idea or two to add to your own large-scale assessment toolbox:

  • Change your questioning style, oral and written, to reflect that of the large-scale assessment. This makes sense because EQAO’s questions are set up to reflect curriculum expectations, achievement chart categories, and higher-order thinking (e.g., analyse information rather just recalling it).
  • Use the same vocabulary and language structures as the large-scale assessment, on a daily basis. They may include:

describe                                                estimate                                 according to the text…

the information in paragraph …                                                        explain how…

use specific examples from the text to…                                         consider

which of the following statements…                                                 show the value of…

construct                                                                                               represent

  • Teach students how to read assessment questions and prompts as a text genre. These are generally written at higher reading levels, so kids will need instruction and practise to help them decode the words and understand the meaning. You will want to model how to deconstruct test questions and prompts(e.g., highlight key words) so that students can recognize and work with the text form successfully.
  • Regularly incorporate the use of graphic organizers, frameworks and anchor charts in lessons as visual and organizational structures.
  • Utilize available technology. Students with learning disabilities or challenges will achieve greater success with the use of software like Kurzweil to assist with reading and writing responses. You can also combine accommodations like technology with a scribe, if this is a regular classroom practices, so be sure to include these strategies as part of your approaches for differentiating.
  • Explicitly teach test-taking skills and have students practise and articulate them regularly so that they know what to do when:

○     They look at the test and their mind goes blank

○     They need to choose the best multiple choice answer and two of them look alike

○     A problem requires a multi-step process to be solved

○     They don’t understand the question or prompt

○     They are having trouble organizing their thoughts

  • Celebrate learning.  Some of our teachers have come up with great ideas for building positive attitudes towards test-taking.  They discuss with students how, after having worked so hard on their learning and on preparing for the large-scale assessment throughout the year, this is a time to ‘celebrate’ their accomplishments.  Each day, students enjoy a different theme-based opportunity to celebrate, like stuffed animal day, chewing gum day, or, after the day’s writing, a luau day or popsicle party, etc.

I’ve worked with students preparing to write EQAO assessments for a number of years.  Good planning and strategic teaching really make a difference for students achieving more positive results.

Teaching strategies for large-scale assessments should extend beyond the test-taking experience.

What are some strategies that you use to help students achieve success?



Thérèse McNamara is a school administrator, special education resource teacher and mother. In her 30+ years as an educator, she has worked as a classroom teacher, computer/curriculum consultant, and education officer. She holds a Masters of Education degree with a focus on Literacy and has taught additional qualification courses for 3 universities. She has reviewed and written a number of professional learning resources and supports the application of evidence-based, best practices to support all students.

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