About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

Assessments…it’s almost become a dirty word in education.  Those of us in the trenches know assessments are necessary and have a purpose.  We understand there are different types of assessments that guide our instruction, help us focus students on their learning objectives, and show us where re-teaching and extension need to take place.  Everyone has taken an assessment at some point in their lives, therefore everyone is an expert.  Our state testing has become high stakes with one test dictating many things and having a rippling impact on our educational system.

Every district and state has different assessments they give, but the end results of these summative assessments is the same.  The focus has gone from understanding and learning from the data to comparing and exploiting the data.  Who learned what?  Where are the low scores?  Who is being “left behind”?

Assessments are about the curriculum, the standards, but are also about effort.  Using assessment incentives helps students buy into the importance of assessments.  We want students to work hard and do their best.  The important thing about assessment incentives is to focus on the positive behaviors of our children.

It is also important to teach your expectations for how testing should look as well.  Teach students how to copy unfamiliar words onto paper and then chunk the words, look for prefixes, look for suffixes and figure out the words.  Teach them to use manipulatives and how to select appropriate manipulatives for the assessment.   This talk about assessments  should be ongoing discussion in your classroom all year long.  What do you want students to do when they don’t know something?  How do you want them to figure something out?  What tools are available?  This is a skill that will help them tremendously in their lives.

As an educator what can we do with assessments?  We can teach!  Spend the year teaching your children to read, understand, apply, compare, problem solve, evaluate, and think.  Care for each of your students and provide them a supportive environment to learn and grow.  Then, when your high stakes assessments roll around try some of these things to encourage hard work:

Student Choice— Allow students to decide rewards for working hard (not everyone is going to score high).  These should be positive things such as extra recess, a read in, snacks in class, wearing PJs to school, game day (digital or board games) or movie day (use movies that are remakes of literature). Be clear on the expectations.  Discuss what effort looks like and then make a list of what things students are to do during assessments in order to receive the reward.

Encouragement—We give encouragement all year long.  We always tell students they are working hard, so during this stressful time of year give them this praise.  I sent home 3 triangular pencil tags for each student in an envelope two weeks before testing.  Parents were asked to write words of encouragement on the tag. I made my own and pulled in help from para educators and aids  in the building so the handwriting was different for those who did not get tags returned.   I then taped the encouragement tags to pencils.  Each day of our testing (yes, we use computers but we want them to use scratch paper when thinking) the students got a new pencil with an encouragement tag.  The words were more powerful than I can explain.

Just Breath—Teach students some simple yoga and breathing exercises.  Yoga helps with relaxation and focus.  It is important to take a minute and center, relax, reflect.  Here is a good pdf with suggestions and information.

Candy—Doing a quick Google or Pintrest search will provide you with some fun candy sayings.  My grade level gets to take reading, math and science state assessments so I used these for the middle assessments.  “You are on a roll!” with tootsie rolls.  “You will rock this test!” with pop rocks.  “You are a star!” with Starbursts.  “You will do great on the assess-mints” with Lifesaver (or any type) mints.  These are then fantastic for students to have during testing.

Brain Break—Be sure and be silly and crazy and let kids have some time to relax after assessments.  We dance to crazy songs. You can find these on You Tube (be sure to watch them first for classroom appropriateness as there are many versions).  You can do the Chicken dance, Sid Continental Shuffle, If You’re A Kid Dance.  Or just play some fun music and have a little dance party break.  Getting kids up and moving is important after they have been sitting and focusing for so long, working hard.

Get Creative—I rewrote the words to the popular song “Sexy and I Know It” to create an assessment song.  During our first round of state assessments we used this as an incentive for anyone working hard on testing.  They were able to help produce the video.  The students helped take pictures and record the music.  I used iTalk for the recording and Movie Maker for the production.  Then we watched the video before our next rounds of assessments.  You can check out our video here.

Assessment time is stressful for teachers and students, but it is a necessary evil.  We need to understand where our students are preforming.  I hope you are able to use some of these tips to turn assessments into a positive in your classroom and move away from the one shot all or nothing negativity that is out there surrounding state assessments.  Do what you love, teach, have fun, and reward your students for their hard work.

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