Storm Lake Middle School students take the Accelerated Reader program in a new direction.
It's not every day that 8th grade students write tests for their fellow students. But that's exactly what they're doing in Marsha Ingram's reading classes at the Storm Lake Middle School.
A project Ingram is incorporating into the Accelerated Reader program has some of her students choosing to read books and write tests over them. Those tests will eventually be used by other students as part of future Accelerated Reader programs.
Accelerated Reader is used throughout the elementary schools and middle school in the Storm Lake School District. It is an independent reading program where students choose books they want to read. Books are assigned a number of points, and each quarter students have a point goal they try to reach. After they finish a book, they take a test over it and receive points based on the number of correct answers they give.
However, teachers and students say it is difficult to find Accelerated Reader books appropriate and challenging for some students in the 8th grade. While there are thousands of books available in the program, the school libraries have to purchase the computerized tests that accompany them. While the schools try to purchase the Accelerated Reader tests when they purchase new books, it can become expensive to purchase the tests for older books in the library collections.
That's where Ingram's 8th grade students come in. They can chose to continue the regular Accelerated Reader program, or they can opt to read books that are not in the school's Accelerated Reader computer test list.
Allison Emery, media specialist at the middle school, came up with the idea for students to write their own tests.
"The idea came from the fact there are a lot of good books in the library that we don't have the tests for, but students didn't want to read them if they weren't counted for Accelerated Reader," she said.
Many of the students have been working with Accelerated Reader since the 5th grade. By the time they reach the 8th grade, some of the students can't find Accelerated Reader books that challenge them and that are appropriate for their grade level.
The 8th grade students involved with the book project will pair up and read books that the school does not have Accelerated Reader tests for. They will then write a 10-question test, which can be entered into the school's data bank of other Accelerated Reader tests. That will provide students in the Accelerated Reader program even more options for books.
Emery, who is familiar with Ingram's curriculum, thought the test writing project could work with Ingram's students.
"I thought they would be more able to handle the project," Emery said. "It's neat to give the sense of ownership, too."
Ingram feels the book project serves two purposes.
"We talk with the kids about serving the community and serving in the schools, and this is a way they can serve the middle school and still get credit for it," Ingram said.
Emery said it also helps with funding at the library. "We try to keep up with newer books, but it gets spendy to get AR tests for the older ones," she said.
Students participating in the project say they are excited about writing tests for fellow students.
"I thought it would a challenge and different, but it might not be too hard," 8th grade student Heidi Hammen said. "I like how you get to work with partners and not read all by yourself."
"I think it's cool you get to write tests for other kids, and there'll be more books to choose from," said student Tyonia Zimmerman.
Tim Matasovsky said he hopes his efforts gets a better variety of books for Accelerated Reader in the media center.
"Sometimes it's hard to find a book you're interested in," he said.
His partner, Adam Sorbe, said there are some areas to be careful when writing tests.
"You don't want to be to picky or hard for other kids," he said.
Ali Brashears thinks that might be one of the more difficult parts of writing tests.
"It probably will be kind of hard not to be too general or too picky," she said.
While writing the tests, students will also be learning about such literary devices as characterization, conflict, plot, point of view, setting, and so on, Ingram said.
She said it gives an authentic assessment of the students' reading skills and reading comprehension.
"It's another way to evaluate our students' progress, and it is real and of value, not some test I made up," Ingram said. "That's a true measure of learning when a student can read a book, write a test for it, and then have another student read the book and pass that test."