courtesy the Roanoke Times
How stressful is standardized testing at your school? I remember my own children getting physically sick when testing time came around. Teachers would pile on the pressure and even tell their classes that if they performed poorly on these tests that they wouldn’t be able to move on to the next grade level, even if they had straight A’s. As a parent, it infuriated me that so much stress was put on students at young ages, and that it worsened as the students got older.
I’ve always been one of those teachers who ‘bucked the norm’, which should come as no big surprise to those who are familiar with me. I didn’t care what admin told me to ‘pass on’ to my students. I would walk into class, proctor in tow, smile at my classroom full of eager students, pass out a healthy snack, laugh and talk for a bit and then as test time approached, have my class clean up, settle down and tell them to do the best they can and that I thought they were all awesome. Relaxed, comfortable and with full tummies, my students would receive their test packets from me with a smile and a pat on the back. I still approach testing in this way.
It does no good to pressure students on testing days, let alone for the weeks leading up to the testing days.
Students who go into a testing situation, or any type of high stress situation, are immediately thrown into a fight or flight mode. Survival is all they are focused on. If students are in this frame of mind, please tell me how they are supposed to remember what they have been taught? Math concepts, reading strategies and even following simple instructions fall by the wayside. As adults we need to remember where our students are coming from developmentally, mentally and academically. If we have done our jobs as teachers, the information on the tests shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone.
So what do we need to do to ensure our students are prepared for testing days without putting the fear of failure on their minds?
Be familiar with what your state and district requires from your students at not only their current grade level, but the grade level before and the grade level after. Unless you loop with your students, you don’t know what your students come into your classroom truly knowing. If there are any holes that need to be patched, it will be your job to identify them and fix them before being able to layer concepts. We also know that most standardized tests will test knowledge that hasn’t been necessarily introduced at the grade level the test is testing. It’s always a good idea to know what’s coming up for the next grade level and be able to teach above the curriculum.
Bring a healthy snack to eat before testing sessions, or have parents sign up to provide snacks. Unfortunately a lot of our students come to school hungry, either from not eating breakfast at all, not eaten enough for breakfast or having eaten so early that what they did eat has already been used up. When tummies are rumbly, minds aren’t thinking. Providing a healthy snack before each testing session that consists of protein and carbs will help students focus on the task at hand.
Approach your class with positive energy. Even if your job is riding on these test scores, don’t pass that adult issue over to your CHILDREN. Remember, your students are not your equivalent. Be positive, encouraging and as stress free as possible. Kids pick up on even the smallest nuances of stress and pressure.
If at all possible, try to test kids, especially young students, in the morning. Younger students are usually much more ‘fresh’ and focused in the mornings as compared to the afternoons. If test session times can’t be adjusted and students must be tested in the afternoons, have a quiet reading time or some other activity to help students calm their bodies and minds before testing, especially if they are coming in from recess.
Don’t allow your personal life to carry over to your students’ class time. This goes for everyday, not just during testing sessions. We all have outside ‘stuff’ going on in our lives, whether financial issues, illnesses, the stress of managing administration, the list goes on and on. However, try to figure out a way to release your stress without it affecting your students. Testing sessions are stressful for us in and of themselves. But once again, stress will always affect your students in a negative way. Don’t set them up for failure.