In most schools, the students take at least one standardized test teach year, if not more. One of the most frustrating aspects about standardized tests is that often students have a difficult time putting all of their brainpower into a test made by strangers a.k.a. Common Core gods or the state, however many times the scores are a measure of your performance as a teacher. How many times have you heard the question, “Does this count for our grade?” If you reply no, forget about any motivation. If you answer yes, you are flat out lying. What you never want is a class full of unmotivated students excited to blow off a test and get out of regular classes for a week or even two. Let’s take and prevent this train wreck with four tips that may help.
The bottom line is, I have had major success with standardized testing. My scores have increased mostly because of the purposeful and meaningful teaching throughout the year, but there are a few slight adjustments I make the day of that I truly believe make a difference and make testing a bit more pleasant for everybody involved.
#1: Get Student Buy In Before Testing Day
Be completely honest with the students, they can sense when you not telling them the whole story. So let’s think, teachers. Why is this test really important? If you use the school’s reputation as motivation, the buy in may not be as high since they are in the stage of their life when they need it more connected to them. For a younger student, it could help determine if they are ready for AP classes, since grades can sometimes be and unstandardized measure of success. Scoring high on a standardized test can be a very valid indicator of how ready he or she may be for an advanced placement class, depending on how your school or district works. This conversation needs to take place before testing day, since rationalizing with an anxious student is a recipe for disaster. On the contrary, if a student scores low on a standardized test and still manages to earn a high grade in that class, it does send off a red flag to teachers and administration. How did the student actually earn the grade? Does the student actually know the content?
#2: Your Demeanor Makes a Huge Difference
Lower the anxiety in the room with you first. A nervous or stressed teacher equals lower test scores, period. There is tons of research behind this one. Anxiety, anger, stress or any feeling of discomfort lowers the brain to input or output information. Think of a dirty sponge. It does not hold water nearly as well as a clean one. The water that comes out is brown and murky. A student in any type of mental discomfort is just that. Their brain becomes a dirty sponge. Now, on a normal classroom day, there are plenty of ways a skilled teacher would handle a student that is stressed or anxious. However, on standardized testing days it begins with you. Do what you need to do to be less stressed. They will read your cool confidence as soon as they walk in the room.
I am actually way more relaxed on testing days and the students respond better to it. Most students are scared or anxious walking into a testing room. They want comfort. They will fire a million questions at you. Yes, have the answers but smile when you say them. Let them see you laugh in the first few minutes of the class, before you start. Talk to them. I actually joke with the class purposefully on testing days before we start. It’s much easier to start testing happy students then setting off your learners into a panic or anger then putting a standardized test in front of their face and hope they do well.
The students do know that when the testing session starts it is serious. I usually ask in a joking way “Does anyone need anything before I turn into a testing robot?” It usually gets a laugh and we begin the testing session with low anxiety, which means higher test scores. I don’t get louder, meaner, or more strict, I just sort of loose my personality and be the test proctor. It works with them when I use that analogy. They know they have lost their teacher’s personality for the rest of the test session, but I’m there. I’m just silently proctoring and giving reassuring smiles if needed. It works. They’re calm, happy, safe and their brains are anything but a dirty sponge. Information is flowing in and out at optimal speed.
#3: Create White Noise
This one is odd but actually one of the most important. Get a floor fan, the biggest one possible. Turn it away from the class. When they start testing, quietly walk over, turn and turn it on. I usually make sure it is not blowing on any students or you may hear some unwanted complaining. There is something unexplainably special about the soothing white noise of a floor fan that will do the job of drowning out any unexpected noise that could hurt concentration. This is especially helpful if you have students with any sort of attention deficit in the room. Students most likely will not notice the floor fan. If they ask about it, they will look at you like their crazy if you tell them why you are doing it. However, it works.
#4: VIP Status
Make your students VIP for the day. I wouldn’t necessarily say this to them, just so they don’t try to order room service or anything, but show them with your actions that every single one of their needs will be taken care of during testing. On standardized testing days, my students are as-much-as-I-can VIP. It’s not that I turn into the Wicked Witch of the West after testing, but I may not have the capability to attend to their every need as I do during the test. The point is that I want them happy and comfortable because I am looking out for their scores. I have even gone so far as give students my coat if they are cold during a testing session. Would I do this during a regular class? I’m not sure, but I do know that if a student has a runny nose they get a tissue. If a student seems tired, they get a stretch break. If a student is thirsty, I may even give them my own water I’ve been saving. If a student comes to class upset, I figure out what is going on and they don’t test until they are ready. If a student seems lethargic, I may give them a piece of candy right before the test. On testing days, I’m a mother, a maid, a waitress, a therapist, a comedian and a saint. On regular days, I wish I were all of this but I believe I may physically explode from being pulled in so many different directions. I can do this for two weeks because you treat someone like VIP, they’ll perform better, period.
Testing brings about many different emotions and reactions from both teachers and students. Why not make it a little more pleasant for everybody and give the students the best chance of doing well and honoring what you have taught them. Good luck and happy testing season!