Secondary ELA Newsletter

April 2019

Featured in This Month's Newsletter


  • Featured Article: "How and How Not to Prepare Students for the New Tests" by Dr. Tim Shanahan
  • Highlights from #PascoSpringReads
  • Save the Date! Summer Professional Development Opportunities
  • Secondary ELA Curriculum Feedback Survey



If you have information or a highlight you'd like me to share in an upcoming newsletter (or you're interested in being a guest columnist!), don't hesitate to reach out via email.

Thank you!

As FSA Writing starts this week, I wanted to take a minute to thank you for all you've done and continue to do to advance your students' literacy achievement. The FSA is but one measure of the hard work and countless hours you've put in to support students in reading deeply for understanding and articulating their thoughts clearly in writing. Thank you for all that you do!

Dr. Tim Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chi­cago

(For the entire article, click above. For Shanahan's 5 best steps, see below.)


Prepare students to excel on these tests not by focusing instruction on question types but by making students sophisticated and powerful readers. I encourage the following five steps:


1. Have students read extensively within instruction. These tests measure reading ability, and you are not likely to develop reading ability without letting students read.


It has been widely documented that students don’t read much in school (Allington, 2011). The solution to this is, not a free-reading period, but including reading within your lessons. There is no excuse for having students read as little as they often do during reading comprehension lessons. Round-robin reading involves one child at a time in reading. Teachers like it because it provides control and it lets them observe how well a student is reading, but a reading comprehension lesson, except with the youngest children, should emphasize silent reading—and lots of it. Not only should students be reading within their reading class, but it should also be part of their social studies, science, and math lessons, too. Because this reading is done within lessons, teachers need to hold students accountable for gaining knowledge and understanding from what they are asked to read.


2. Have students read increasing amounts of text without guidance or support. Performing on a test is like delivering a monologue, not like participating in a conversation.



Often, lessons involve students in brief amounts of reading punctuated by class or group discussion. Students might read a paragraph or a page, followed by teacher questions. This model is not a bad one. It allows teachers to focus student attention on key parts of the text and to sustain attention throughout. However, the stopping points need to be progressively spread out over time. Perhaps early in the year, a teacher might have the group read a page at a time with follow-up discussion or activity. At some point, this reading regimen should be expanded to two or three pages’ reading without interruption. The shortest prototype that PARCC or SBAC has released is a 550-word passage for third graders. It is essential that students gain extensive experience reading texts this long, and even longer, without teacher intervention or support. Increasing student stamina and independence in this way should be a goal of every reading teacher.



3. Make sure the texts are rich in content and sufficiently challenging. Lots of reading of easy text will not adequately prepare students for dealing with difficult text.



The CCSS established text levels that students should be able to read at grades 2–12, and PARCC and SBAC will assess reading with texts written at those challenge levels. In the past, elementary teachers have placed students in texts that matched their reading levels (Shanahan, 2013). But this is not the best way to enable students to handle more challenging text. Make sure the texts that you are assigning are sufficiently difficult, and provide students with scaffolding that allows them to perform well with these texts (Shanahan, Fisher, & Frey, 2012). This means providing fluency instruction with such texts and preteaching some of the key vocabulary words. It might require guidance with sentence grammar, text structure, or cohesion. In any event, it is essential that students learn to make sense of texts as difficult as those they will be expected to read on the tests.



4. Have students explain their answers and provide text evidence supporting their claims.

Studies suggest that students are not engaged in classroom activities with sufficient intellectual depth and that involving them in such activities can have a positive impact on learning (Rowan & Correnti, 2009). One way that the CCSS emphasize intellectual depth is by requiring that students be able to use texts as the basis of their own arguments. Arguments require claims based upon reason and evidence, so involving students in such intellectual explorations of the texts they read will move them in the right direction. I would not expect such practices to enhance performance on any particular item types; however, I do believe that they will require students to read and reread texts in productive ways.


5. Engage students in writing about text, not just in replying to multiple-choice questions.


Most of the [test] items are multiple-choice. Nevertheless, research shows that writing about text enhances reading comprehension. Graham and Hebert (2010) in a meta- analysis of dozens of studies found that writing about text was a more powerful stimulant to learning than reading alone, reading and rereading, reading and discussing, or reading and studying. Although writing text summaries and syntheses may not look like the tests students are being prepared for, this kind of activity should provide the most powerful and productive kind of preparation.

Big picture
Thank you to everyone who participated in #PascoSpringReads over spring break! We loved seeing all of your excellent reads.


Be sure to check out a few highlights below.

Save the Date! Summer Professional Development Opportunities

Don't forget to mark your calendar for the following summer learning opportunities:



  • June 17-21: World Class Learning Institute (Participants are paid their hourly rate to attend!)
  • July 29-August 1: Together We Learn
  • Reading Endorsement courses Registration opens in myPGS on May 1



Please let me know if you have any questions about any of these opportunities!

Secondary ELA Curriculum Feedback

Contact