Getting students ready for a standardized test is not easy. Whether it be the SBAC, PARCC, or STAAR, teachers across the country are scrambling to get ready. For students to be measured on one test is always stressful for not only the teacher but the student as well. Every year is a different batch of students, but yet scores are expected to exceed previous years. It is a flawed system, but we have some tips to help you get through testing with as little stress as possible.
First, if you have taught your students what your district mandates as your curriculum, then you are on the right track. Obviously we all know that one year cannot change a child, but you must do your best to make it the best year for each child that you teach in your class. By following the curriculum, you ensure that you are doing your job with your students.
Second, you must be prepared for the test. What does this mean? Your administrator and/or principal should be providing you with the guidelines and testing rules prior to taking the test. Make sure to review these carefully. You need to follow the guidelines and security measures that are required by law.
Third, you will probably have some practice sessions scheduled with your class where they can do sample problems and get a feel for the test. This is a great opportunity to help lower the stress level of the students, and a great chance for you to see if there are any issues that your students are having with the format (see accommodations section below).
Finally, we have some suggestions for both you and your students.
- Make sure to get enough sleep prior to and during the testing days. Your body and mind needs rest and being able to come to school rested and ready is important.
- Also, try to eat a good, healthy breakfast. We have asked for parent volunteers to bring in healthy snacks (bananas, apples, string cheese…) and have had this available in the morning for any student who is hungry.
- Last, but not least, come to school with a positive attitude and a smile on your face. If this isn’t the case with some of your students, as a teacher, make sure to greet each child outside your classroom with a big smile on your face, and then follow up in the classroom by checking on the students that don’t seem happy. Just showing them you care will often bring a smile out in them!
When our students hear the word “test” they cringe and you can see the fear on their face. When we start to talk about the test that fear sometimes turns to panic (and sheer horror for some). Thoughts flood their minds, “I’m going to have to repeat 5th grade! My parents are going to ground me forever if I don’t pass this test. Maybe I can pretend I’m sick and get out of the whole test. I wonder if I broke my writing arm if I would have to take it?”
After 40 years of combined teaching at grade levels where tests are administered, we have developed a list of tips that we think will help not only your students, but yourself cope with the “stress of the test”.
Tip #1: Treats!
What student (or teacher for that matter) doesn’t love treats? About a week before the test begins we read a letter to our students about how their parents can bring in healthy snacks and healthy drinks on the days of the test. This gets the students excited. You can find an example letter that you can adapt to your classroom by clicking here.
Tip #2: Class Meeting
It is important to start off testing days with a short class meeting. For those of you that have never done this- don’t worry. Students need to be acknowledged and appreciated, especially on testing day. First, it’s a simple greeting in the morning to everyone. We have used a koosh ball to throw around the room, have the student give high 5’s to each other, and do a pinky shake to name a few. Next is a quick share. Some topics that we have done during testing are: raise your hand if you ate breakfast today, raise your hand if you got at least 7 hours of sleep and so on. The third activity is a cooperative game. This is a time to get up and do an activity together. The favorite activity of our classes is the beach ball toss. We bring a beach ball into the classroom and pick 3-4 students to be in the middle of a circle. Their goal is to see how long they can keep it in the air. Then we pick the next group until all students have been picked. The final part of the meeting is announcements. This is where we share what part of the test they will be doing that day, when the snacks breaks are, and any other events happening during the day. Students like to know the routine ahead of time.
Tip #3: Stress Chain
Students always bring worries with them to the state test. To combat this, we created a stress chain activity that we do the day before the test. What the teacher needs are various colors of regular size construction paper. Take each piece of construction paper and cut into about 8 equal strips. Hand out two different colors of construction paper per student. Tell them that you want them to write their worries about the test on the paper. Some examples are: “I might fail, I might not know an answer, I will get nervous and forget everything I know, I’m not too worried, etc.” After they have finished, have the class help you make them into chains by looping them together and stapling. Take the completed chain and tell the students that you are going to hang all their worries outside the classroom door. So when they come in to class tomorrow they are to leave their worries at the door! You can find a printable version of the directions here.
Tip #4: Test Taking First Aid Kit
Another fun idea is to create a test taking first aid kit for the students to “use” during testing. The kit includes items that students could use during the test. Check out the contents of the bags by clicking here.
Tip #5: Brain Breaks
One important thing that you need to do with your class is to take brain breaks when portions of the test are complete. This could be the time that you have your snacks, or when you do some quick movement activities (jumping jacks, running in place, wiggling arms and legs, etc.). Students need the time to get up and move around. Click here to find our favorite brain break cards to use in your classroom!
Tip #6: Sharpened Pencils
It sounds simple, but before testing begins we make sure that EVERY student has at least two sharpened #2 pencils in their desks. We also make sure that we have a can of sharpened pencils handy. The last thing you want is for a student to panic when s/he breaks a pencil.
Tip #7: Bubbles
It’s not what you think! No, we do not allow bubbles in our classrooms, but that could be fun. Instead, we are talking about those fun bubbles that students need to fill in on the test booklets and/or answer sheets. If your students are grades 4 or higher they can probably do this on their own. If they are in a lower grade, we would ask for assistance from an aide in the school or someone that can help you do this ahead of time. If your students are doing this on their own, make sure to give clear directions. Something fun to do at the end would be to give them a blank bubble sheet and have your students create designs. (This may not pertain to your test if it is now all electronic).
Tip #8: Music
During our brain breaks we often turn on music to let the students unwind. Sometime it might be soothing classical music, or other times it is the music we downloaded on our Ipods that has more modern (appropriate) songs that the students would enjoy. They love it!
You also have to be prepared for the different needs of your students. If a student has an IEP or a 504 plan, there should be information on what accommodations are required for the student. If you have a special education teacher in your building, s/he should be able to help you make sure that their education plans are followed. It would be a great idea to make sure you understand what needs to be done for these students at least a week ahead of time so you can have a plan for those students. But, keep in mind, if you do any fun activities with your class for breaks from the test, or after the test, make sure to include ALL of your students.
Day of the Test
It’s the day of the test and everything is ready to go- your testing materials are set for each child, accommodations are in place for some students, and you are prepared and ready to begin. Just be aware that there always may be some unforeseen issues. Whether it is students that are gone for testing day, a broken pencil, or a student that gets upset during testing, you have to remain professional and be ready for anything. Keep a positive attitude and never let the students see that you are flustered. The last thing these students need on testing day is a teacher who is cranky! Smile and adapt. You are a teacher and that is what you do.
When the test is over, it’s time to celebrate. Below is a list of some of our favorite activities. Enjoy!
Basketball Trash Shooting
At the end of testing, we take apart our stress chain and hand back the pieces. After crumpling their chain pieces, have each student try to make a basket in the recycling bin. For some extra fun, break the class into two teams. They have a blast with this!
Ice Cream Party
What better way to celebrate the end of testing than with some ice cream. You become the students’ waiter/waitress and serve them ice cream and various toppings. Check out our student ice cream order form here!
What student doesn’t love more recess? Take them out for an extended period of time and let them enjoy being kids again! Maybe throw in some sidewalk chalk too.
Take an afternoon and show a movie as a relaxing way to unwind after testing. Students will love this! In our school we have a policy that any movie we show has to be rated “G”. Believe it or not, there are a lot of choices out there. For extra fun buy some popcorn and some drinks!
Team up with a younger (or older) grade level and do a fun activity together. It could be as easy as reading books to playing games outside. They will love to spend time with other students in the building!
Let us know if this blog post on testing was helpful for you! Good Luck!
Need more help? Check out our new FREE Test Prep Tips Guide! With these new tests, and the weight they carry – us teachers need all the help we can get!