A popular question teachers ask regarding the reading portion of the assessment is…Do you have any tips on how to get students to score better on the constructed response?

In most states the scorers are looking for three things in a well-written, short-answer, open-ended response. A student must be able to:

  1. Restate the question while providing an answer, idea, or opinion.
  2. Tie the response directly to the reading by citing specific details from the text that support his answer, idea, or opinion.
  3. Explain how the text details actually support his answer, idea, or opinion. This is called “interpreting” the answer.

To better explain these three components, let’s look at a specific example.

The Blizzard

Reading Passage: Imagine students had to read an excerpt from the picture book The Blizzard, by Betty Ren Wright (out of print). The gist of this text is that a blizzard has hit mid-day and students at this rural school need to dismiss early. But rather than getting on buses, they walk to the nearest house. So the teacher is having them all put on their winter clothing. The passage reads…

Miss Bailey walked around the room like a general getting her army ready to fight. “Jacob and Henry, turn down the lamps,” she ordered. “Mittens, everyone. If you have a scarf, tie it over your nose.” When they were ready, she clapped again. “Mr. Carter, open the door please.”

Constructed Response Question: A typical assessment question might read–How would you describe this teacher? Using details from the text, support your thinking.

Constructed Response Answer: A strong answer should:

    1. Restate the question while providing your opinion of the teacher.
    2. List specific details from the text to support your opinion of the teacher.
    3. Explain how those details prove your conclusion.

(These three items are color-coded in the example answer below.)

I think this teacher is a strong leader and take-charge person. The text states that she “ordered” the students to put on their mittens and scarves. The text also compared her to a general in the army. Both of these examples show that she can command a group of people like a strong leader would.

Mini-Lesson Scaffold: These three elements should be taught independently and in order.

  1. First, work to get students to be able to answer the question by drawing a conclusion.
  2. Then, teach students to answer the question with specific text support. Students tend to be too general in their responses; they might write “The teacher told them to put on their winter stuff.” The students need to go back into the reading and pull out exact wording and details like “ordered” and “like a general getting her army ready to fight.”
  3. Finally, after your students are mastering skills 1 & 2, then work on the third component–interpreting the text. Students find this pointless. They think it’s obvious what the details prove, but they need to demonstrate this to the scorer. They need to go one step further and explain how these details support their initial answer or opinion.

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