No matter how you feel about standardized testing it is the standard by which students and teachers are held accountable. Like many veteran educators I can vaguely remember when standardized tests were not used for promotion and retention. The teacher’s grades were the sole deciding factor that determined whether or not a student either passed or failed. Ahhh….the good old days!
Now back to reality. Every January I, like many educators across the nation enter into testing preparation hell! This time of year is stressful for students, teachers, and administrators because our feet are held to fire by unfair accountability ratings. At the bottom of this hierarchy are the students and they bear the brunt of the standardized test pressure because the pressure trickles downward.
Preparing students to tackle the standardized test monster is most of the time twofold. First teachers have to prepare students mentally and then academically. Standardized testing can cause anxiety in young students because they really want to do well. One year I saw a 3rd grade student throw up on a test because he was so nervous and stressed out and could not handle the pressure being placed on him. You would have thought that the teacher would have to throw his test away because he threw up on the the test. NOPE! She had to put the test booklet in a Ziploc bag and send it to the district office and then they sent the test back to the state. Can you say crazy?
During the testing craze there are 3 things that teachers can do to prepare their students for standardized testing.
- Stay calm– A teacher’s attitude towards testing serves as the example for students, so if the teacher is not stressed out over testing then the students will not stress out. Even though you may feel like everything hinges on the students’ success on these high stakes tests a stressed out teacher and student is a recipe for disaster.
- Focus on the skills– There are a lot of test prep books out there but the students must first know the content and there’s not any amount of test prep that will help them if they don’t know the skills. As a rule of thumb I don’t begin using any test prep books until the second semester so that my students have had enough instruction before attempting test preparation. Standardized testing is the end not the beginning. These tests show whether or not students can transfer their knowledge in a standardized testing format.
- Find a balance– Finding the right balance between teaching and test prep is important for students. Giving students endless amounts of test prep worksheets causes more harm than good. This practice will create anxiety in the students and cause them to shut down. Reviewing the content in an engaging way and then following up with a test prep worksheets can cut down on testing burnout.
Let the chips fall where they may!
Like you , I don’t agree with the way standardized testing has run amok, but there are ways to help your students get through this stressful part of the school year. I never look forward to January because supervisors, administrators and etc. are on edge and walk the building endlessly. Even with all this testing nonsense and pressure my classroom or my life doesn’t stop because my students have to take a test. Relax, stay confident and after you have given your all let the chips fall where they may!