How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 3rd Grade ELA

Preparing for the Florida Standards Assessments?  This post unpacks the FSA test specifications for 3rd Grade ELA.
As Florida teachers begin prepping for testing season, time is frequently an issue. The Florida Standards Assessments are rigorous tests, and students need be familiar with both the question styles and testing formats. Both teachers and parents can benefit from understanding what students are expected to do on the exams. In this blog post, I am going to focus on 3rd grade English Language Arts (ELA). By the end of the post, you will know more about the FSA and how to prepare students for the exam.

The History of the FSA

Florida Standards are relatively new. The state adopted the Common Core State Standards a few years ago, then quickly switched to Florida Standards. In reality, the new standards are nearly identical to those pf the Common Core. The purpose of this post is not to debate the CCSS, but to help teachers and parents to understand the expectations.

FSA exams were created by the makers of the AIR test, which Colorado had used. FSA exams have higher expectations than the old FCAT tests, and their style is different. In addition, many of the exams are given on the computer, which is a new skill for a lot of students.

What Does FSA Cover in 3rd Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These documents are a great tool to analyze what students are really expected to know by the end of the year. The problem with them is that they are so long! I spent two days printing, reading, and matching the specifications to the standards. It isn't an easy chore when you are pressed for time.

In third grade, the test coordinates with the Florida Standards. Students are expected to read at a third grade level. Passages on the exams will be 3 - 4 paragraphs long and be between 100 - 200 words in length. In addition, almost all skills are now integrated into the reading passages. For example, grammar questions are written as an editing activity.  Instead of showing a sentence in isolation, students have to read a paragraph and correct the grammar error that is in the paragraph. (The error is noted - students don't have to find it.) Teachers should begin to focus more integrating grammar skills within their reading and writing lessons.

The four sections of the FSA of weighted pretty close together in 3rd grade.
  • Key Ideas and Details  15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing 15 - 25%
So, what skills should teachers really focus on in third grade? From examining the test information and grade level standards, there are specific skills that students are expected to know.

Preparing for the Florida Standards Assessments?  This post unpacks the FSA test specifications for 3rd Grade ELA.

Vocabulary

  • Affixes to correct words and determine word meaning
  • Literal and nonliteral meanings of words and phrases
  • Words with shades of meaning
  • Multiple meaning words
  • Time words and what they signify in a text

Grammar

  • Regular and irregular plural nouns and verbs
  • Simple verb tenses
  • Subject/verb and antecedent/pronoun agreement
  • Comparative and superlative adjectives
  • Coordinating and subordinating conjunctions
  • Capitalization, including in titles
  • Commas in addresses
  • Commas and quotation marks in dialogue

Reading

  • Answer comprehension questions.
  • Determine the main idea or lesson of a story or text.
  • Recount stories, fables, folktales, myths, and nonfiction texts.
  • Explain how supporting details support the main idea or lesson.
  • Use explicit and implicit details from the text to describe a character (traits, motivations, or feelings) Make inferences about the character from the text.
  • Describe the relationship between a series of events, ideas, concepts, or steps using language pertaining to time.
  • Determine how successive parts of the text build on earlier sections. (Stories, dramas, and poems)
  • Describe connections between particular sentences and paragraphs in a nonfiction text.
  • Use text features and search tools to locate information in a nonfiction text.
  • Identify and evaluate the point of view of the narrator, character, or author.  (Students do not need to know 1st or 3rd person point of view.)
  • Explain how an illustration relates to and affects the meaning of the story.
  • Use information from illustrations (maps, photos, graphs, etc) and words in the text to demonstrate understanding.
  • Compare and contrast themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters.
  • Compare and contrast the most important points and details in two or more nonfiction texts.
  • Understand the main idea, details of an audio or multimedia presentation.

Question Types

There are nine types of questions on the FSA.  Students really need to practice examples of those questions so they understand what they are being asked.  However, some types are used more than others.  Based on the practice test information, the most common types of questions are:
Preparing for the Florida Standards Assessments?  This post unpacks the FSA test specifications for 3rd Grade ELA.
Paper-Based Test
  • Multiple Choice
  • Editing Task Choice - Students select the appropriate replacement for an ungrammatical word or phrase or the correct version of a word or phrase in a sentence.
  • Evidence-Based Selected Response (EBSR) - Students select multiple details from the text that provide support for the answer to a question.
Computer-Based Test
  • Multiple Choice
  • Drag and Drop - Students drag and drop key details or events into the correct order to recount the text. This is only on the computer-based tests.
  • Editing Task Choice
This does not mean that the question types will always be this ratio, but by far, multiple choice was the most common in third grade on both practice tests.  The other types of questions are:
  • Selectable Hot Text - Students select words, phrases, or sentences from the text to answer a question.
  • Open Response - Students have to write their response.
  • Multiselect - Students select multiple details from the text that provide support for the answer to a question.
  • Graphic Response Item Display (GRID) -  Students place key details or events into the correct order to recount the text.  They are placed in a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram. This is only on the computer-based tests.
  • Editing Task - Students have to replace a word or phrase with the correct spelling of the word by typing it into a text box. This is only on the computer-based tests.
I recommend introducing students to these other question types, but focusing on the types that they will see the most.  

Resources

Schools and parents can use the practice tests provided by the state. I took both versions of the third grade ELA practice test. The computer-cased test has a few different question formats than the paper-based one, but otherwise they are exactly the same. In the practice test, there were two sets of paired reading passages. One set was fiction and the other was nonfiction. Each set of passages had a few questions.  Some questions were about just one of the text, while others used both texts. (The sets of passages are not compared with each other.) In addition, there was a short passage that included grammar questions.
ELA Jeopardy Game and PDF file for test prep review, 3rd grade reading and language arts.
Sadly, other than what is provided by the Florida Department of Education, there is not much available for practice.  I have created some Test Prep activities for the FSA.  They are available in my TPT store.

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