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Grey Cloud Elementary School fifth-grader Peyton Francis silently follows along while her teacher, Cindy Krueger, reads a novel aloud to the class. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

District 833 students prep for upcoming reading test

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education Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

The new Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) reading tests this spring will be longer and trickier, but Grey Cloud Elementary School and other District 833 students won't be ambushed.

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They're being prepared for a new focus.

When the Minnesota Department of Education reading standards were released about two years ago, District 833 schools were already preparing. New tests are based on Common Core standards started as an effort by governors to have the same tests across the nation with the goal to get students prepared for college and career education.

"We've been preparing for some time," said Grey Cloud Principal Laura Loshek, even before there were new standards.

The main shift in the area of literacy is away from fiction toward non-fiction reading. Remembering her college days, Loshek said most of her classes required her to read non-fiction books for information. Students need to manage, analyze and absorb multiple streams of knowledge to be ready to navigate the next level of education after high school.

The days of book and blackboard learning are not gone but have slipped in beside the use of the Internet, audio, computers, virtual reality, visual and computer SMART boards, which have replaced overhead projectors as a means for students to extract information.

The standards are the curriculum, according to Sean Duncanson, Grey Cloud fifth-grade teacher. Students are reading for information.

Strategies such as grouping students by abilities determined through test results are used. There is buddy reading where one student reads and the other listens before they switch roles.

When teachers read aloud and students follow along in the same book, students learn how good readers sound in a conversational way. It's what they'll hear in their heads when they are reading alone.

Fifth-grade teacher Cindy Krueger read to her reading class students recently as they followed along in their own books. They are allowed to move out of their desks to sit on the floor or sit in other desks for the task.

She stopped on certain words to build vocabulary knowledge. While building the number of words they recognize, students are learning to build habits that cause them to analyze what a word means instead of passing over it.

The class then moved to workbooks with various genres of non-fiction reading that included interviews, primary sources, first-person narratives and an article about finding artifacts.

In addition to MCA tests, there are MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests given in all schools. The results, which are immediate, are used inside the district to put students in ability groups.

The MAP computer tests are different from MCAs, which are given to determine whether students are learning at grade level in reading and math. MAP tests how much students know beyond their grade and reveals what they are missing.

If students don't get the correct answers, the test backs down to the level of knowledge they get right.

Preparation for MAP tests require a lot of work on vocabulary but Grey Cloud fifth-grade teachers have developed a set of reading flashcards and one for math vocabulary.

Since the curriculum contains the standards required for MCA tests, very little time is spent in test preparation with the exception of giving students strategies on how to take tests, Duncanson said.

Though some school districts will be taking the MCA reading test online, District 833 will be using printed tests.

Online testing takes up too much computer time, Loshek said. Paper tests can be given at times when it's most convenient.

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