The standardized tests are primarily reading comprehension. Students are asked to read several passages, amounting to about 400 words, and are then asked questions to be electronically scored about what they've read. Ever wonder where the test creators get their passages? One place is by excerpting nonfiction literature like the books in the picture. How do I know? Here's a picture of a file of contracts where I sold excerpt rights to testing companies:
“When coming up with topic ideas for reading passages, it's always best to go with something familiar to you. Choose topics in which you have prior knowledge or interest. This will make the passage easier to write, and will often reflect in the writing. Because writers may use a maximum of 5 sources when writing a passage, choosing passages in your realm of knowledge will also minimize the number of sources you have to rely on.
“Keep in mind that passages may not have references to drugs, sex, alcohol, gambling, magic, holidays, religion, violence, or evolution, and that topic ideas should not lend themselves to passages which would require such content.”
“Use grade-appropriate vocabulary. To check your passage, use Microsoft Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability test (part of Microsoft Word programs).”
Clearly the authors of these documents didn’t know for whom they were writing. Did they think that after 90 books I need their tips? Do they have any idea how these “tips” flatten text and clip the wings of a talented writer? Is it their intention that the Common Core State Standards teach kids how to read bad writing? Don’t they know that kids build vocabulary by being exposed to literature and spoken language where nuanced words are used in context, not through leveled readers with controlled vocabularies? And if you think kids can’t learn multi-syllabic words, just talk to a five-year-old expert on dinosaurs. FYI: I passed on the opportunity.
But I digress. Your problem is simple. In the next month or so of test prep, your students need to practice reading widely and reading deeply. Use the Nonfiction Minute as your source. They are exactly the same length as the test questions. Use the T2T sections to discuss the Minutes. Have students pick authors they like and go to the library and get a book by that author. Reading a whole book is reading deeply. You can use our database to find books that fit in with your curriculum and grade level.
Remember that drill-down test prep by reading test questions and filling in bubbles doesn't foster a love of reading or learning as it increases pressure and tension on both students and teachers. The Nonfiction Minute makes reading and thinking about what you've read fun and engaging. It could lead a student to the library to read books, think of that!
Give the kids two days of practice tests right before the real ones to build their confidence that taking the test is a piece of cake. Allow yourselves to be pleasantly surprised.