A Look at the OGT
Finding Short Passages to Help Students Practice
During a recent discussion of OGT concerns, a teacher asked, "Where can I find short
informational text passages?" Another teacher joined the conversation by adding,
"What about short literary passages? I have trouble finding good ones that I can
use to test reading."
As the discussion continued, the need for short passages became clear. Teachers
who want to give their students practice with assessments that are similar to the
OGT are often stymied in their efforts because of the lack of suitable materials.
Textbooks are filled with literature of all types―short stories, poetry, drama,
essays, and so on. Bins and shelves stuffed with news magazines, novels, poetry
collections, and other reading material fill empty spaces in classrooms. But at
times, the thought of one more thing to search for overwhelms the teacher, and the
lack of readily available short passages often prevents teachers from creating the
assessments that simulate the OGT experience.
Where, then, can teachers gain quick, easy access to suitable passages that will
be useful in helping students succeed when they take the OGT in reading? The test
is composed of short, medium, and long passages. Medium passages are defined as
500—900 words, while long passages are 900—1,200 words in length. Short passages
contain fewer than 500 words. On any test form, there will be a mixture of short,
medium, and long passages. The Ohio Department of Education's "Blueprint for Reading,"
available on the ODE website, states:
If the long reading selection is an Informational Text, then one short reading selection
will be a Literary Text. If the long reading selection is a Literary Text, then
both short reading selections will be Informational Text. [From
Ohio Graduation Tests: Interpretive Guide, Spring and Summer 2005,
Test item distribution is also determined by the types of passages included. Guidelines
from the Ohio Department of Education state:
- The long passage is assessed with one extended-response [4-point]
item and up to two short-answer [2-point] items.
- A medium passage will not be assessed with both short-answer and extended-response
items on the same form. These passages may either have one short-answer or one extended-response
- Short passages will not be assessed with an extended-response item.
These passages may have only one short-answer item on each form of the test. [From Ohio Graduation Tests: Interpretive Guide, Spring and Summer
In addition to short-answer and extended-response questions, multiple-choice items
are included for each passage.
Criteria for Effective Passages
Appropriate passages should meet most of the criteria below:
- Relevant for students
- Appropriate reading level
- Close in length to passages used for the OGT
In addition to these criteria, effective passages should be of good literary quality
and contain features that are consistent with the Ohio Academic Content Standards.
For example, the passages should include such elements as character development,
figurative language, plot, and setting, even though not all elements are likely
to be found in any single passage.
Locating Suitable Passages
An excellent source of both passages and suitable questions can be found in the
collection of NAEP items available on the ORC website. Use the ORC "Go to Search"
feature, located in the left navigation bar, to take you to our "Search Results"
page, and then click on "More Search Options" in the gray bar. By adding your specific
criteria, you can view and browse through all the pertinent brief records for the NAEP items. You can also find individual items by clicking
on Ohio Standards in the left navigation bar, selecting the standard or grade, and then choosing the benchmark or
grade-level indicator you want to assess. When you click on ORC resources, located
in parentheses immediately following the benchmark or indicator, you'll see all
the resources for the benchmark or indicator you've selected. You'll need to scroll
through to find the assessment items.
The search screen is visible in the graphic below. Note that the topics
are filled in and grade levels and resource types are already selected.
When you submit your search, you'll be taken to a collection of more than
100 NAEP assessment items for reading and writing in grades 8—12. The reading items
are based on passages, both literary and informational, that are similar to the
passages found in the OGT. Assessment items are composed of multiple-choice and
open-ended questions. The passage, student responses, and student performance data
can be accessed individually for each item.
Not all passages need to be connected to a testing program. Some sites contain outstanding
passages which are useful when you're helping students develop strategies for reading
Finding Passages on the Internet
Several national newspapers and other media, as well as some booksellers and publishers,
maintain websites for reviewing or promoting books. Many of these sites contain
excerpts―sometimes an entire chapter― from the books. You'll find a few of these
sites described below, but you'll find many more useful websites by using the common
search engines such as Google or Yahoo. By entering the phrase
fiction excerpts or nonfiction excerpts,
you'll find additional sources. You can also search for additional categories such
as teen literature or young adult literature; biography; or summer reading.
Do keep in mind, however, that if you decide to use some of the excerpts you find
on the Internet, you'll need to read them carefully to be certain the material is
suitable for your students. Since most of the books are written for adult readers,
the content is not always appropriate for students in grades 8—10. The book titles
change frequently on some of the sites, and the selections often represent current
fiction and nonfiction from the New York Times best-seller
lists. You'll want to check the sites periodically to look for new listings.
You'll also want to consider copyright laws when you decide to use a passage for
your students. Fair use implies that copyrighted material might be used for educational
purposes as a one-time component of teaching, but it should not be used repeatedly,
nor should it be used by a district for testing purposes.
Mostly Fiction is a website that includes both reviews and first
chapters of books. The title can be a bit misleading since there are links to significant
numbers of nonfiction works as well. By browsing through the website, you'll find
excerpts from many current works that will be perfect for classroom use.
The flexible organization of
Book Browse makes it particularly useful not only for accessing effective
passages, but also for finding and recommending great summer reading for your students,
yourself, and your colleagues. You can find books for teens and young adults, books
listed by historical periods, recent best sellers, and many other classifications.
A free subscription to the newsletter will help you keep current with these lists.
In a section of its website called
Take a Peek, USA Today posts excerpts
from current books of both fiction and nonfiction. A brief description of each book,
listed alphabetically, gives enough information for you to determine whether or
not you might wish to explore the book and consider the excerpt for classroom use.
Washington Post also has a website where first chapters of current
books are available online. Rich fiction and nonfiction can be found on this site,
which changes its selections regularly.
The NPR (National Public Radio) website includes a feature for summer nonfiction
reading, aptly titled
Summer Reading: Nonfiction. This section of the site includes some
of the best nonfiction books with extensive reviews and excerpts. By exploring some
of the NPR links to additional categories of summer reading materials, you'll discover
a wealth of reading suggestions for summer or for any other time of year.
These are just a few of the websites containing links to excerpts from outstanding
works of fiction and nonfiction. Once you begin to take advantage of these resources,
you'll want to search for additional sources of good current literature. Not only
will these books enrich students' preparation for the OGT; they will also provide
choices to keep students reading all year long.
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