As a teacher, you know just how important it is to ensure your students are performing at their best on state tests – not only for your district and administration but in some parts of the country, student test scores impact teacher pay.
For students, state testing season can be an incredibly stressful time. The pressure from teachers and staff to perform well on these tests can cause anxiety and even panic. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few simple changes, teachers can take the stress out of testing season for their students, leading to a better experience for everyone involved.
Let’s switch up our perspective on state testing and see it as a chance for students to simply showcase all they’ve learned this year! We don’t need to be defined by the results, even if our district or politicians and society think we should. Instead of viewing state testing as a high-stakes, high-consequence experience, look at it as an opportunity for your students to simply demonstrate what they know.
Let’s face it, the test itself is not really a high-stakes test for students. Yes, there are district and possibly even building ramifications for low test scores, but the test itself has no immediate impact on students and is therefore not a high states test for students. No matter their grade level, students have a difficult time connecting how they did on a test in the spring and the quality of programs offered at their school (or number of teachers the school can hire, or the resources that are available to them) the following school year.
This shift in perspective will help you approach testing season with more positivity and less anxiety which will spread to your students and make it easier for everyone to have a better experience.
This is not to suggest we shouldn’t take the test seriously, we should, but with a more positive outlook, we can help create an atmosphere in which everyone feels calmer and able to do their best.
Practice Makes Perfect or Does It?
It may seem counterintuitive, but spending weeks before the test doing test prep activities is only going to exhaust your students and make testing sessions harder for everyone. It is important not to spend weeks before the test drilling your students with practice tests until they are worn out by the process before they even begin. Instead, use a few practice days to help students become familiar with the format or website they will be using but then let it go.
You may want to also provide students with some strategies to use during the test. Encourage students to take breaks during the test if they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Remind them that it is OK to stop for a minute and practice some deep breathing exercises, or to get up and stretch their legs. These simple habits can help keep them calm throughout the weeks of testing and improve their performance on the test.
Of course, it’s important to ensure students are familiar with any new formats or websites associated with the test. Familiarize students with the vocabulary of the test, how to submit answers, or any other mechanical aspect of the test to minimize surprises along the way that could cause unwanted stress or anxiety. But please don’t spend days with practice problems or practice writing responses. Spend a day or two prepping for the test but don’t overdo it – too much practice will lead to burnout before you know it!
As mentioned earlier students don’t really see state testing as high-stakes. While some students understand the long-term consequences of not performing well, most students see state testing as a nuisance – something they simply don’t want to do. With this in mind, drilling and killing in the weeks before the test has no positive effect on the students and will not change the results of the test.
When students ask me why we are not test prepping, I let them know the test is simply an opportunity for them to demonstrate what they know. They’ve been prepping for the test all year. I remind them of all the hard work they’ve put in this year and that they are more than ready. Students who may not have worked hard all year are not going to perform better because you spent weeks with practice problems and you just going to add stress to students who are actually ready.
The Week Before State Testing Begins
As testing season draws nearer, it’s important to help your students stay cool, calm, and collected! In the days leading up to the state testing start date, engage students in a fun, creative activity. Try a reading one-pager or have students write letters to themselves about their future goals. You can also create posters as a group project, start a read aloud for everyone to enjoy, or challenge them to write a short story – this is the perfect time for creative learning that will make both you and your students smile!
At the Start of Each Testing Session
Many students will come to school, especially in the first few days of testing, with high levels of fear and anxiety. Keep the start of your testing sessions light and casual. Here are a few suggestions you do with your class before you hand out any materials for state testing:
- Motivational notes on the board – The Friday before testing begins, I had students in my last class of the day write inspirational/motivational quotes on the board.
- Upbeat music as students enter the room – middle schoolers may groan but they secretly love it especially if you play music from your teen years!
- Candy – If you don’t hand out candy often, it is super exciting when you do! I buy a different candy for each of the few days I hand it out over the testing season. I pair the candy with a funny little saying I know my students will love – usually something about or school or mascot. I place the saying and the candy in a clean, beach sand bucket and hand it out personally to each student giving them a quick pep talk before the session begins!
- Spontaneous Dance Party – after the testing session has officially ended for the day, blasting a song and encouraging a dance party is a great way to break the tension in the room!
Let Go of Fear & Anxiety
Finally, let go of any fear or anxiety you may feel about how well your students will do on their tests. Easier said than done right? Spending weeks leading up to the test doing nothing but test prep activities isn’t going to change the results of the test. There are many factors that go into the results of the test, some of which we have no idea about! There is very little transparency from testing companies about how they calculate scores, and how they calculate scores changes each year. You know your students and what they can do, encourage them to do their best and let go of the rest. Let go of any worries you may have about how well your class does—they’ll do just fine!
Overall, the key to helping students do their best on state testing is to keep them calm and confident. Provide practice with any new formats or websites associated with the test, but don’t overdo it with practice problems. Encourage students to take breaks during the test if they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Finally, let go of any fear or anxiety about how well your students will do on their tests; there are many factors at play and you know your students and what they can do. With the right preparation and attitude, your students will be ready to tackle the state testing season!