By Andrew Hawk
During the last fifteen years, standardized testing’s place in public education has been a hotly debated topic. Though standardized testing has been around for some time, the stakes attached to tests were raised dramatically by the No Child Left Behind legislation that became law in the early 2000s. This year, President Obama and Congress collaborated to remove the stakes attached to the tests. However, some form of testing will remain present in each state.
The pressure that has been put on educators during the age of standardized testing has varied from school district to school district, but in some instances, teachers’ jobs literally depended on their students’ test scores. This has prompted behavior ranging from teaching directly to the test to, in some cases, teachers changing students’ answers to produce higher scores.
While most of this pressure has been focused on teachers and principals, some of it has also carried over to students. Whether purposely or inadvertently, students in third grade through high school should not be placed in a situation where they are stressed out about standardized testing. Here are some tips to help prepare students emotionally to take standardized tests.
Try Not to Stress Yourself Out
I have worked at four schools. Three of them underperformed on standardized tests. One of them underperformed to the point where they were taken over by the state. The consequences of repeatedly having low test scores are not desirable, but stressing out over testing will not raise scores. Of the schools I’ve worked in, the one that has been the most successful on tests is the one that focused on testing the least.
If educators need to improve scores, they must collaborate as a school to form an improvement plan. Once the plan has been made, there is nothing left to do but execute it. Stressing out about tests is likely to be observed by students—and likely to make them feel stressed out as well.
Clear Up Misconceptions
I am currently working as a resource room teacher servicing students who have learning disabilities, have other health impairments, or are on the autism spectrum. While every year I have students who pass the standardized tests, the majority of my caseload do not earn passing scores. I have students who believe that if they don’t pass the standardized tests, they will not advance to the next grade level. This is an enormous amount of stress for students to feel.
I usually have a ten-minute conversation with my students to clear up misconceptions like that. In some cases, I also have phone conversations with parents to clear up their misconceptions about testing.
Emphasize Effort over Getting a High Score
I always tell my students that these tests are in place to measure how much they have learned during the school year and that the most important thing is for each of them to do their best. When students ask me what happens if they score low on the tests, I tell them the school will form a new plan for teaching students. In this way, I try to stress the importance of the tests without making students feel responsible for any outcome that may be attached to low test scores.
Keep Test Days Simple
I worked at a school that held a special breakfast on test days. I taught at another school that handed out spirit T-shirts with inspirational slogans for students to wear on test days. The school that had the most success kept test days as close to regular days as possible. The principal included a statement in the school’s newsletter about the importance of getting a good night’s rest prior to testing and that was all the attention the tests were given. Just as the excitement on picture day takes focus away from instruction, making a big production out of testing is likely to result in unfocused students.
Do Not Overuse Test Preparation Materials
Taking standardized tests is a boring experience. Completing test preparation booklets tends to be boring as well. Teachers who overuse test prep materials probably do not realize that they are conditioning their students to shut down during the real test by overexposing them to the testing process. Test prep material should be used to teach students what will happen on testing day. The material being tested should be taught in different ways to ensure that all of the learning styles present in each classroom are being accommodated.
Do Not Plan Something Exciting Directly After the Tests
Students should be rewarded for putting forth good effort on their tests. However, if they know the reward is coming right after the test, they are likely to rush through the testing. Whatever you are planning on doing can wait until the day after testing. On testing days, I recommend doing an activity from a typical school day after a test session is concluded. Make students aware of what will happen after they are finished testing. Knowing what will come next will help them relax while they are taking their tests.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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