One crucial strategy for improving district standardized scores while reducing costs

Integrated test prep involves weaving the knowledge students need for their assessments into all curriculum.

One crucial strategy for improving district standardized scores while reducing costs
One crucial strategy for improving district standardized scores while reducing costs
Sean Haskell
July 19, 2023
Educators

Caught between a rock and a hard place

If you're reading this, you're likely very familiar with the ongoing struggle of improving standardized test scores while keeping costs down.

With the right approach, integrating test preparation into regular teaching can become a magic trick to ease the constant burden that this tightrope presents. It's like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, except the rabbit is a sustainable, effective, and balanced education delivery strategy.

More on that rabbit later.

The current state of test prep

Even considering increased inflation, the cost of educational materials has been increasing each year.

If the cost climb were a casual hill hike, the pressure for higher test scores is scaling Mount Everest in flip-flops. High-stakes standardized tests have morphed from a tool of assessment into an object of obsession. But here's the kicker: this pressure-packed environment isn't necessarily improving the depth of learning, but it sure is making us stub our toes on an expensive hike.

Integrating test prep with the ongoing curriculum is magic your district can’t afford to ignore

When we talk about integrating test preparation into regular teaching, what exactly do we mean? Well, the answer isn't as elusive as the hidden card in a magician's sleeve.

Integrated test prep involves weaving the skills and knowledge students need for their assessments into the very fabric of daily lessons. It’s about teaching the curriculum in a way that naturally prepares students for their tests and then reinforcing knowledge continuously to avoid learning loss and the need for remediation and cramming. 

Think of it like baking a cake; you don’t bake a plain cake and then try to shove in the chocolate chips later. No, you mix those delicious morsels in the batter right from the start.

Integrated test prep reduces costs

Treating teaching and test prep as distinct entities requires separate and redundant resources. Integrated curriculums are like efficiently packing for a vacation; instead of taking two suitcases for clothes and shoes separately, you cleverly pack them together in one. Reduced baggage fees, more money for souvenir shopping.

Integrated test prep involves weaving the skills and knowledge students need for their assessments into the very fabric of daily lessons. It’s about teaching the curriculum in a way that naturally prepares students for their tests and then reinforcing knowledge continuously to avoid learning loss and the need for remediation and cramming. 

Integrated test prep improves scores

Traditional test prep often feels like cramming the night before an exam; the information might stick for the test, but good luck remembering it next week or beyond. However, when test prep is weaved into everyday learning, it becomes more of an ongoing process. Students learn and revise simultaneously, and this consistent reinforcement leads to deeper understanding and better test scores. Like learning the lyrics to a catchy tune that's on repeat - you start off humming along, but before you know it, you're singing along perfectly.

Reduced teacher burnout

Overcrowding, excessive administrative tasks, and outdated EdTech already have teachers stretched thin. Adding pandemic-fueled mandates for teachers to double as test-prep tutors have educators around the country on the verge of hoisting the white flag. 

Integrated test prep reduces burnout by allowing teachers to do what they do best: teach the subjects that they’re passionate about.

Strategies for implementing integrated test prep

With the magic trick defined, it's time to reveal how it's done. Here are three practical strategies for creating a curriculum that integrates test prep with education delivery. 

Strategy #1: Lesson-plan adjustments

Scaffolding and spiraling are two teaching strategies that can be implemented to effectively deliver education while keeping an eye on learning retention and standardized test performance.

Scaffolding is about breaking down the learning process into bite-sized pieces. It's like when you're learning to cook; you don’t start off with a five-course meal. Instead, you begin with scrambled eggs, move on to pasta, then maybe a roast chicken, until you’re ready for that complicated Beef Wellington.

Spiraling is all about revisiting topics repeatedly over time, each time diving deeper and reinforcing learning. It's like rewatching your favorite movie; every time you notice something new until you can recite the entire script by heart.

These strategies bring the curriculum to life, prepare students for their assessments organically, and minimize the need for remediation and cramming

Challenges and solutions

Implementing lesson-plan adjustments that scale across a district can be hard. It requires extensive training and buy-in from every educator in the system. Implementation barriers are highly variable and can significantly impact the uniformity and scalability of district efforts.

Dr. Pooja Agarwal and Patrice Bain co-wrote a wonderful book entitled Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning. This book combines the cognitive learning background of Dr. Agarwal and the classroom experience of Ms. Bain to provide actionable exercises that any teacher can implement. Educators can find even more information and free guides at their website retrievalpractice.org.

Strategy #2: Build an EdTech stack focused on learning retention instead of cramming

A student-favorite “studying” method involves finding Quizlet decks made by the most motivated student in the class and cramming them in the days before an exam. This practice is clearly detrimental to long-term retention and standardized test scores.The good news is that dreaded cramming tools can be replaced with effective long-term learning tools.

Anki

Anki is a flashcard app that uses the science of spaced repetition to help your students remember things. Here's how it works: Anki shows a flashcard, you rack your brains to answer, then you tell Anki how easy or hard it was. Based on your answer, Anki schedules when to show you that card again. This simple system is designed to show you information just as you're about to forget it, which is, according to learning scientists, the best time to reinforce memory. So, instead of cramming facts the night before the test, students slowly, but steadily, etch them into their long-term memory over time.

Teachers can either make cards for their students or teach students how to use Anki and hope they take the initiative to use it on their own. Students who do use Anki are almost guaranteed to excel in class and on standardized exams.

Unfortunately, Anki also has drawbacks. Because it has a notoriously steep learning curve and does not integrate with LMS such as Canvas or Blackboard, it is likely to only be used by students who are highly intrinsically motivated (students who likely would have succeeded anyway).

Etch

Etch is a new spaced repetition learning platform designed to make learning retention easy. Etch works with publishers to superpower educational content with learning retention best practices. Because Etch integrates with LMS and is easy to use, it offers a scalable learning retention experience for all students, not just those who are already highly motivated.

Etch can only be accessed through its educational partners. At Coral, we’re excited to partner with Etch to provide a premier learning retention experience for students learning material covered on the ACT and AP exams.

Strategy #3: Partner with Publishers that Integrate Test Prep and Core Learning

District outcomes often come down to the tools that are provided to educators and students. District administrators have to ask themselves if their curriculum and EdTech stacks are bogging teachers down or magnifying their impact. Are they being used effectively by students or is money being wasted as students leave them unused?

At Coral, we understand that offering integrated test prep and core learning eliminates time and cost redundancies associated with, for example, purchasing expensive textbooks and then purchasing remedial test prep content to re-learn the same content ahead of a standardized test.

Conclusion

Integrating continuous test prep with teaching is a shift in perspective, an upgrade in our teaching methodologies that promises a healthier, more efficient educational environment. 

The magic formula? A blend of effective teaching strategies like scaffolding and spiraling, introducing EdTech built for retention like Anki and Etch, and ensuring that curriculum partners are built around the integration of curriculum with standardized exam success.

We’re building Coral specifically to offer a curriculum solution that boosts test scores while fostering growth for each student at a highly accessible price point. 

Sign-up for our institutional waitlist here - we’ll reach out asap to answer any questions you might have.