Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

The way to prepare students for high stakes testing is just like preparing an athlete for a crucial match, you coach them during practice.high vault.jpg


Preparing a classroom of students for a high stakes assessment can be daunting. Whether it’s an Advanced Placement Course, an International Baccalaureate Program Class, or a Semester Final Exam, the instructor needs an intelligent plan of attack to guarantee students are competent with the content. A creative approach to high stakes assessment preparation can make the road less traveled an interesting one for both the students and the teacher.


As a High School Cross Country Coach and High School Physics Teacher, I’ve found a lot of parallels between planning proper training cycles for runners and planning intelligent instruction for students. Either way you slice it, both administrative roles are centered upon setting up the student-athlete for success in a high-stakes competition. Keeping participants engaged throughout the journey will often lead to success.


The process I outline below requires adhering to sound planning principles for the teacher, just as it does for a coach. Each of the six guiding coaching points are listed below with a tie-in to how it connects to high stakes assessment preparation for the educator:


Coaching Tip Number 1: Identify the major skills your students need to succeed on the high stakes assessment and introduce them early in the course.

Plan with the end goal in mind: having the end goal in mind allows the coach to question, “How does this training session fit into the main target of getting the athlete ready to race,” while planning each daily practice.


Putting It Into Practice

What specific phrases are used on the assessment to direct students to complete an explicit action? Are the words justify, derive, and explain defined as the same action by the test-graders? During the first week of your course, why not carve out time to define the “action words,” used on the assessment to elicit a specific student response. Next set up an activity where your students observe and process how these specific action words are used in the context of actual assessments. Structure an activity in which students work in groups to identify action words used on actual assessments. Allow time for groups to discuss the proper use of the word in getting an answer on the assessment and predict trends in crafting an answer to obtain maximum credit.


You should also discuss how the assessment is formatted. Are there multiple-choice sections? Are there free response sections? Do students write directly on the test or on a separate sheet of paper? You can empower your students by physically setting up some of your assessments, activities, and lessons throughout the year that match the high stakes format. Your students will develop best practices and learn a rhythm to working the test. There is a comfort level when things seem familiar—the anxiety of the test taker is lowered, and additional mind space is liberated—allowing students to demonstrate their wealth of knowledge.


Coaching Tip Number 2: Keep variety in the classroom by completing a diverse array of activities, not just practice tests, to keep morale high and keep students engaged in the content.

Teach competency at a variety of paces- athletes need to have fun to stay committed to training. Planning a variety of activities, workouts, and race distances keeps things interesting throughout the season. A similar concept can be used in the classroom.


Putting It Into Practice

Even if your upcoming high-stakes assessments focuses on strictly multiple-choice questions, there is value to working a variety of assessment types throughout the year. Variety permits students to obtain breadth and depth in the content, not just regurgitation. Labs, quizzes, presentations, demonstrations, web-quests, simulations, and gallery crawls, etc., when carefully crafted, can directly align with the content your students need most. Tapping into your students’ higher-level thinking skills allows them to use a variety of approaches to problem-solve, regardless of the assessment type.


Coaching Tip Number 3: Large blocks of consistent activities related to major themes on the assessment will always trump “cram session” test reviews.

Consistency is king: athletes that can string together large chunks of consistent training over the course of weeks and months are the most successful when it’s time to race. The same is true when it comes to learning.


Putting It Into Practice

It is best to approach your “review tactics,” as a yearlong process, which is iterative in nature. Integrate the review into your chapter assessments and weekly lessons. Highlight major themes prevalent on the high-stakes assessment and weave them into lessons and activities. Expose trends in problem solving that help students see the big picture in each situation. If you are consistent about exposing your students to “reviewing as they learn,” the approach becomes seamless and nearly unnoticeable. This is how real learning and processing takes place. The most disjointed “cram reviews,” are when the instructor finishes the course content and spends 3-4 weeks hyper-focused, reviewing for the test. Students feel anxiety from an approach that screams, “The previous eight months didn’t have much correlation to the assessment looming around the corner!” What is this approach telling the students about your content delivery for the better part of the academic year?


Coaching Tip Number 4: Ensure students and teacher alike are mimicking the pace expected on the high stakes assessment throughout the year.

Speed development can be performed year round: speed for a distance runner is something that needs honing, appropriately, throughout the year to breed familiarity, comfort, and confidence. High stakes testing is like a timed distance race and students need to learn how to be strategic with their time.


Putting It Into Practice

What are the time restraints for the high stakes assessment? How many minutes are the students allotted per question at the end of the year? What resources are permitted for the students on the assessment…calculators? Equation sheets? References? It is critical to keep students aware of these restrictions throughout the year. A smart approach is to enforce these restrictions often on classroom items, so the high stakes assessment restraints seem familiar. If a resource is permitted on the year-end assessment, use it and refer to it often. Get students used to the “grooving the pace,” needed on the test. Be honest about the time restraints and put them in action on a consistent basis.


Another way for students to sharpen their high stakes assessment acumen is by practicing proper test taking strategies in the classroom. Some items to explain to your class are the following: How are points calculated? Do all students start with a score of zero, and gain points for correct answers or do students get penalized and lose points for incorrect answers? Each requires a student strategy. As students progress through the test, do the questions get more challenging? If so, is it beneficial for students to take the exam by answering all the easy questions first and to “strategically guess,” with a pre-selected “no clue answer,” if they have narrowed down more than half the multiple choice answers? Will students earn partial credit for free response problems if they know the procedure, but not the correct answer from subsequent parts of the problem? Simulating employment of proper test taking strategies in the classroom is an intelligent method to eliminate surprises on the high stakes assessment.


Coaching Tip Number 5: Students make stronger connections to the content when the class is teacher driven, but student centered.

Model a team-first approach: a coach needs to create a team culture where younger runners feel comfortable approaching the leaders as mentors on the roster, understanding that each athlete has an important role on the team, regardless of ability level. Mimic this in class.


Putting It Into Practice

It is the teacher’s responsibility to put a system in place that encourages collaboration amongst students. It is a critical skill for students to become advocates for their own education, utilizing their peers as mentors. Simple changes, like grouping desks in pods of three or four, can do wonders for classroom culture. When an educator creates such an environment, he or she is empowering students to become invested in their own learning. In turn, this allows the educator to become more of a facilitator, slowly weaning students off constant dependency on the teacher. Group verbal check-ins on concepts, in lieu of individual student feedback, can be meshed into learning. Verbal exchanges force students to guarantee the rest of the group clearly grasps the topics in question. Consequently, students hold each other accountable, accepting that each member is contributing towards something more valuable.


Coaching Tip Number 6: Communicate the philosophy behind your approach to your students.

Have transparency in the vision: athletes will become more invested in the training if they understand the basics behind how each workout will help them improve a specific physiological system and skill set needed for a competition. So will your students.


Putting It Into Practice

It’s easier to get students, parents, and administration to buy into your methods of instruction if they understand how you arrived at making those decisions. Sharing successes with all stakeholders reinforces what you do well. Sharing areas for improvement, formulating a strategy, and executing that plan is a best practice. Be transparent and inform your students with the why’s and how’s of these implementations within the first two weeks of the academic year. Show them the data that you used to make these choices. Your professional judgment will be held in high regard as you select academic options throughout the year.


With your finger constantly on the pulse of the content area, stakeholders will view you as an expert in the subject area. Your role will evolve into an instructor that is doing what is best for students in preparation for the high stakes test, rooted in current and relevant data. Honesty in your approach will serve as a great anchor to return to throughout the year when the “why are we doing this,” questions begin to arise.


Off to the races!

“Teaching to the test,” doesn’t have to be the only path to success…there are more interesting and effective ways to keep your class engaged and focused on success down the road in the upcoming months. In training, as well as teaching, it’s crucial to connect all aspects of your plan to that specific high stakes competition.  Running the road less travelled is more fun anyway- terrain can change, elevation can climb, footing can be unsteady…and won’t that be more memorable?


How do you instruct your classes to prepare for a high stakes assessment? Is there a guiding principle that works best for you and your students? I’m interested to hear about what different techniques you use to set your students up for success on high stakes assessments. Please write your comments in the space below, and I will be sure to answer them.



Doug Petrick is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug regularly contributes to a series for educators here on Wiley Exchanges offering practical advice and instructional strategies.


Image credit: technotr/iStockphoto


Values Have No Borders

Posted Feb 16, 2017
    Mark Allin
Mark Allin
President and CEO, Wiley

The past few months have been a time of reflection for all at Wiley on not only the outcome of elections and referenda but also many of the larger challenges we face as global citizens: government Wiley storefront.jpgrestrictions on immigration; opposition to evidence-based science; fear of globalization; access to quality education and employment. The changes that we are witnessing provide all of us with an important opportunity to think about our own values and what it means to be a global citizen. In the three weeks since the U.S. Presidential Executive Order on immigration was issued, we have been in discussions with the communities we serve: our researchers, our authors and our partners in learning. These conversations have reaffirmed our core values—ones that have inspired us at Wiley since our founding.


Over two centuries ago, Charles Wiley opened a print shop in Manhattan. Soon after, his first bookstore became a meeting place for writers, artists, and inventors to discuss and debate issues of the day, and his publications reflected his interest in everything from literature to science and technology. We are proud that this rich heritage of sharing knowledge is still alive today at Wiley and has been extended to every corner of the world where we now operate. We continue to work with our partners to advance knowledge and progress in science and education, whether it is bringing together experts in their field to share meaningful insights, creating new tools for researchers to speed up discovery or helping institutions and faculty move online to reach students no matter where they are.


We thrive when our authors and partners are free to work and travel across borders, and our colleagues are free to do the same at our offices around the world. We oppose any ban that restricts access to the United States on the basis of race, religion, gender or country of national origin. We oppose restrictions on the activities of government employed scientists and the use of their data. We support evidence-based science as the bedrock of public policy solutions to our most urgent problems, from protecting public health to mitigating climate change. As a global community of citizens, we are all fundamentally stronger through diversity and a free exchange of ideas.  These values are widely held across the globe by billions of people: enlightenment – the search for truth through reason, the spread of knowledge as the basis for human progress, the importance of debate and tolerance and the belief in human liberty.


Now more than ever, science and education have no borders. Knowledge has no borders. Values have no borders. Global interconnectedness, education, independent, evidence-based science and diversity of all kinds—heritage, sexuality, citizenship, religion, thought—are critical to continued progress. This truth is all around us. One in five scholarly publications is written by coauthors from different countries sharing their latest discoveries with their communities and the world. A recent paper in a Wiley journal by researchers from Iran, Turkey, France, Morocco and the US is helping to advance the fight against tuberculosis, which kills more than a million people a year. There are countless examples of the same kind of collaboration; from the 1 million international students who call American colleges and universities home to the 100 American Nobel Prize winners who were immigrants to this land and represent diversity, inclusiveness and freedom of thought.


In the coming weeks and months, we will be in touch here on Wiley Exchanges to continue this conversation in support of our communities and address the current attacks on our values. At Wiley, we remain committed to working alongside our partners to explore all avenues to truth and to protect global interconnectedness, robust independent science and diversity in all forms.


Image: John Wiley & Sons, 15 Astor Place, 1870. Credit: Wiley Archives

    Ashley Yazbec
Ashley Yazbec
Account Manager, Wiley
MFA, California Institute of the Arts

Frankhuang Getty Images.jpg
It’s no secret that job prospects remain dismal for American youth. While the economy has somewhat improved after the Great Recession, the fact remains that 39 percent of people under 25 are unemployed or underemployed. This statistic leaves many wondering: how is it possible that the most educated generation in U.S. history struggles to gain footing in the professional world?


Some experts point to one culprit: the skills gap.


What is the Skills Gap?


The skills gap – a cumbersome issue with oft-disputed causes and solutions – refers to the disparity between those who are unemployed or underemployed and the number of open positions in the job market. Put simply, there are a disproportionate number of jobs to skilled workers. This imbalance causes tremendous strain within our economy – mainly from the perspective of two groups of people: college grads and employers.


Recent college graduates currently experience greater difficulty in securing a job that utilizes their degree than those of a similar age a decade ago. In fact, among college-educated youth, only 55 percent landed in a job relevant to their field of study, with 25 percent finding interim work – jobs that are unrelated to their field of study and that youth plan to leave quickly, according to a McKinsey study.


Considering these statistics, it’s easy to assume that there’s a job shortage, which is not the case. On the contrary, 2014 marked the longest stretch of uninterrupted private sector job growth in US history. Yet, employers report that candidates don’t have the right skills to fill vacant positions. This trend is particularly prevalent when searching for skilled manufacturing workers, healthcare workers, and in fields relating to the STEM disciplines.


However, the disconnect between how institutions and employers view job-preparedness does provide some clarity. While 72 percent of educational institutions believe recent graduates are ready for work, only 42 percent of employers agree. This is largely due to the fact that industry is changing at record speed. This means that, in some cases, the need for particular skills can actually precede the programs necessary to develop these skills.  Second, many in-demand competencies that employers consider essential to the workplace – hands-on training, problem-solving, computer literacy – are not emphasized or not easily measured by educators.


What Is the Impact?


Yes, the skills gap has become especially pronounced over the past several years, but what are the consequences of such a misalignment? According to research conducted by the University of Missouri - Saint Louis, skill gaps reduce productivity and diminish employee performance. Other potential consequences include risk of not achieving strategic plans, lack of leadership vision, loss of market share, reduced positive employee working relationships, and increased turnover.


Likewise, college graduates are left with few options if their degree isn’t providing a return on investment. As more young people are forced to take low-wage jobs, they risk defaulting on their student loans or deferring payment altogether. And national student debt is not an insignificant threat to the economy. Two-thirds of students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities are graduating with some level of debt. The average student incurs $26,600 in debt upon graduation. One in ten graduates will incur more than $40,000. The result of mounting debt means that young people in their mid- to late-twenties are increasingly postponing traditional life events, such as home-buying, marriage, and saving for retirement.


How Do We Bridge the Gap?


Institutions must recognize that their paramount measure of success is the ability of their graduates to obtain gainful employment. To that end, employers and educators are tasked with facilitating an open dialogue in order to adequately prepare students for the workforce.


On their end, employers need to be more transparent with the competencies they require or foresee requiring their workers to possess. This clarity not only streamlines the hiring process for prospective candidates, but also enables educators to better align learning outcomes with in-demand skills. In addition, practical, hands on-learning is increasingly preferred by students and employers alike, yet only 24 percent of academic-program graduates and 37 percent of vocational graduates said that they spend most of their time in this manner. By developing programs that foster strong collaboration between students and industry leaders – such as internships and feedback on project-based coursework – employers and educators can ensure they’re producing a strong talent pipeline over the long-term.


How are you addressing the Skills Gap in your classroom? Share your strategies below in the Comments.


Image Credit: Frankhuang/Getty Images


    Justin Meyer
Justin Meyer
Senior Lecturer of Chemistry, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology



As this post is a continuation of my series on the Art of Classroom Humor, I thought I would wrap up this topic with a few quick comments and some examples of jokes or fun you can apply to a classroom. Keep in mind that some of this is fairly original content, but just like the content we cover in class, most of this is based off of something I found online or from other sources (including a 7 year old neighbor).


The Warm Up


Let me start off with a little background about me. I’ve bounced around between jobs prior to this. I started off working at a publishing company charged with making calendars. They fired me. Who would have thought you could get fired for missing just one day? I then thought I had a great job working for Pepsi, but they had a drug test and I tested positive for Coke. After that I tried being a barber, couldn’t cut it, and a butcher, but I couldn’t make ends meat. I even got a job fixing clocks, it was part time. So now I hope I have found the solution teaching chemistry (or perhaps found the precipitate?).


This silly string of puns and jokes does prove a point. You can really increase the effectiveness of a joke if you set it up well. Something as simple as; “I am a little out of it because I was up late last night… “ can set up for a number of jokes.


  • I was up late last night. I was doing some work and I got so upset with my computer that I flung my keyboard across the table. Some keys popped off and I learned a valuable lesson: don’t lose control!


Being a chemist, I like to use chemistry jokes, but I don’t limit myself to these alone. So, for my last bit of advice, use stories as much as you are able. One liners are good, but there is fun and educational use in getting students to listen to what you are really saying. Make them wonder if what you’re telling is a joke or a serious story. (And then enjoy the eye-rolling when they “get it”.) This idea of unpredictability relates back to the first part of my series. The end goal is to keep students at their sharpest, most engaged level so when the serious learning moment is at hand, they’re ready.


So with that, and the tortilla I had for lunch, it is time to wrap up this series with some of my favorite stories, jokes and images to brighten up your classroom.


Short jokes

  • Some Chemistry labs will require long sleeved shirts. However, in this lab, we don’t; in here, we have the right to bare arms.
  • Recently, the actor Will Smith got lost while wandering in the canyons near Bel-Air. Have you heard about this? The LA County Sheriff’s department located him when they found the fresh prints.
  • Last night, I went out to dinner and the waiter got so upset with me he threw a salt shaker and a AA battery at me. It was a clear case of a-salt and battery, but the police said they couldn’t charge the battery.
  • I like to practice magic as a hobby. Last night I was driving down the street and I turned into a driveway.
  • My home town is excited about the recent purchase of a dairy farm by the singer John Legend. I guess he is going to fix it up and try to make it a tourist attraction. He was to name it after himself. That’s right, it will be called the Legend Dairy.
  • I found my son in his room the other day with a box of toothpicks. He was taking each one and quietly snapping the tips off of them. I find him so disappointing.
  • If you adjust your posture, do you stand corrected? (Or; “Can you adjust my posture? I need to stand corrected.”)
  • I am thinking of getting a new computer. I am considering one of those new singing computers. You know, a Dell?
  • What did they give the guy that invented the door knocker? A No-Bell prize.
  • Each year hundreds of children go off to mime school, never to be heard from again.
  • My next exam is going to be given a special title. I am going to call it “The World Exam”. That way my class can solve all of The World’s problems, starting with The World’s #1 problem.


Not what you expected


  • Two goldfish are in a tank. One looks at the other and says, “You know how to drive this thing?”
  • Two parrots are sitting on a perch. One turns to the other and asks, “Do you smell fish?”
  • I don’t always tell dad jokes, but when I do, he laughs.
  • What is orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot.



  • I like to type Conjunctivitis.com on a PowerPoint slide and ask the class what this is.--a site for sore eyes, of course!
  • I also like to type “My day” on a Powerpoint slide, select it and  then highlight it. I tell the class that this was the highlight of my day.

I hope that these jokes at least brightened your day, and perhaps a class of yours. I am always looking for more jokes. Please leave any good (or not so good) jokes in the comments!


Image credit: Brand X/Getty Images


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