Fall Testing Tips

It’s fall! For many of us that means cooler temperatures, crisp leaves on the playground, thoughts of pumpkins and frost, and . . . testing. Yes, the beginning of the school year has become standardized testing time for many schools. This year, for the first time, I’m getting a new perspective on the challenges of standardized testing: my son, Ethan, is in third grade, and his class is beginning to prepare for their first round of tests. A couple nights ago we started to see the first effects.

Ethan was excited to start his homework that night. “Dad! I get to use the computer for homework! I get to try out these math problems online!” We sat down together, and I helped him navigate to a set of test-prep questions that began simply, but got progressively harder. By the last few, his frustration level was building, and I could tell tears were not far off. “I don’t get this!” he exploded at the end. “Why are there tests anyway?”

We finished off with a quiet chat about how tests help schools see what they’re teaching well and what they need to teach more of. He calmed down relatively quickly, and ten minutes later was riding his scooter up and down the sidewalk.

Still, Ethan’s experience made me reflect on how wide-reaching the effects of standardized testing can be. For teachers it can be a major inconvenience, especially at a time of year when building safe and cooperative classroom communities is so critical. Testing – even baseline assessments  – can also produce profound anxiety in students, and the effects of that stress may show up in behavior at school or at home. Here are a few ideas for helping students get ready for testing at the beginning of a new school year:

Practice, but keep it light. Try taking poll questions of the class in the form of multiple-choice questions. For example, on your morning message you might ask, “What’s your favorite kind of TV show: a) comedy, b) science/nature, c) cartoon/fantasy, d) other?” Then talk about how to answer multiple choice questions.

Keep testing in perspective. Make sure that testing doesn’t become a dominant theme for you or your students. Several short practice sessions sprinkled throughout the day are better than hour-long intense practice sessions. Also, make sure to have lots of other fun work going on (a great read-aloud, math games, etc.) to keep the overall energy level positive and upbeat.

Communicate with families. Parents and other family members may want to know what they can do to help, or they may have questions. Use short notes/emails home to inform families about the upcoming tests. Give parents simple tips for how they can help their child be ready. For example, remind parents about the importance of getting good sleep and eating healthy foods.

Mike Anderson is a Responsive Classroom consultant and author of several books, including three in the What Every Teacher Needs to Know series.

Tags: Testing