It’s that time of the year again. All around the country schools are gearing up for their state standardized test. Some may have already started. Test season is one of the most polarizing times of the year. If you are in education then you know a lot of people, teachers, students, and parents alike, who hate state testing, and even the ones who don’t hate it still acknowledge that they are tedious and time-consuming.
This time of the year can be difficult and seems to drag on. Here are some proven ways to help your students on the tests while keeping their sanity as well as your own:
Review released items
If you are trying to help your students on the test the best action you can take is to review the test questions that your state releases. In almost every state, there is a database of old or similar test items and reviewing those is the best way to simulate the test for the students.
But don’t “cram”
You probably have fond memories of pulling all-nighters in college before a big exam. Maybe you even felt like it worked, but science says that it is not actually as effective as you think it is … particularly for adolescents. While reviewing key concepts and test items leading up to the exam is best practice, throwing everything they have learned back at them a week before the test is not. If that was actually an effective way to teach the material your pacing guide wouldn’t have it spread out over a year. Most educators instinctively know this, but you will still see it whenever you go into a school leading up to testing.
Reduce student anxiety
Even if you don’t tell your students that the test is a big deal, they will pick up on it instinctively. They may act like they don’t care but this will actually create a lot of anxiety for them which will ironically hurt their test performance. Leading up and even during the testing period, take steps to make them less nervous and on edge. You want them to take the test seriously but not be intimidated. Assure them that they are ready. Mix in more fun activities. Some schools do test pep rallies. You may not have the capacity to do that, but a little fun buys you a lot of capital with students which is always a good thing right before you ask them to do something as arduous as state testing.
Offer breaks and snacks
You want them taking the test serious but you don’t want them staring at a screen for eight hours straight. Make sure you have breaks spaced out evenly throughout the testing blocks. During these breaks offer food. It is well established that hungry kids perform worse. We also just shouldn’t want them to be hungry in general. So, keep some healthy snacks on hand to ensure students have the fuel to make it through the day.
Minimize other work during testing windows
A lot of teachers don’t want to give the appearance of slacking off or mailing it in during testing. But seriously, it is okay to dial back in classwork during the testing window. When students test all morning, the last thing they want is to go to their afternoon classes and do even more work especially if they truly gave their all on the test. This isn’t to say play Xbox all afternoon or don’t assign any work. Try and make it a little more engaging than you usually would. Fun review activities like Kahoot are great for these situations.
Update your “test taking strategies” for the digital age
The vast majority of classrooms feature, Baby Boomers, Generation X or Millennial teachers instructing Generation Z students. Testing looked different for us than it does for them. In many areas, kids aren’t getting packets and Scantron bubble sheets like the previous generations did. They are testing on computers. Computer testing has given way to different types of test item formats, like filling in the blanks, check boxes, short answer, or directly typing in the numbers. There is still place for discussing “process of elimination” but it might make some sense to discuss how to use the online tools on the testing platform or the right way to type or format a math answer so it counts. The days of “making sure you have completely filled in the bubble” are dwindling. Also, many multiple-choice answers are randomly generated these days. McGraw-Hill and Pearson are on to the “when in doubt pick C” strategy.
There is not a whole lot of wiggle room around state testing. You have to do it. It takes a long time, and it’s not fun. However, it does not have to be the miserable experience it probably was for you in school. You can and should take steps to make sure your students are ready for the testing.