10 Tips for Stress-Free Standardized Testing

Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Testing
Let's be honest. Everything about standardized testing stinks! But, since it exists as a necessary evil for many teachers and students, I wrote this article to share Ten things we can do as teachers to take the stress out of standardized testing
Unfortunately, standardized testing in elementary schools has become the norm, and while we can’t completely take away the anxiety it brings to kids (and educators as well), there are some steps teachers can take to get through testing with as little stress as possible.  This post will share ten tips and ideas that I have learned from my decade of administering standardized tests (including PARCC) to third graders. My hope is that teachers will find them helpful in taking some of the stress out of the test.

Tips for Stress-Free Standardized Testing helps teachers & students prepare for PARCC & other mandated tests. Get the kids ready without wasting valuable class time cramming in test prep. An experienced teacher shares great ideas that have worked for standardized tests in her 3rd grade classroom.

Ten Tips for Stress-Free Testing...(or at least "Less-Stress" Testing)

Avoid using the words “assessment” or  “high-stakes consequences” when discussing the test. Do your best to have a positive attitude and refer to it as “an opportunity to show what you know.” I explain that the purpose for them taking the test is to help teachers plan lessons that focus on the skills they need to know so we don't waste time showing them something they can do already. This gives the daunting task a purpose and takes the pressure off of the students.

The kids are already nervous on that day. Walking into their familiar, comfortable surroundings to unexpectedly find the desks spread apart can make them uneasy. If you need to reconfigure your classroom to meet the testing regulations, consider doing so before the actual test day to alleviate anxiety.

Gather the class on the floor for a picture book read aloud. I suggest Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes.
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This is a fun picture book about a cat who steps in things with his white shoes. The repeating text reads, “Did he cry? Goodness, no. He kept walking along and singing his song.” This quick read is ideal for discussing moving on from setbacks. I relate it to the test by explaining that they may encounter a question that stumps them, but they need to brush it off and move on to the next one.

Tips for Stress-Free Standardized Testing helps teachers & students prepare for PARCC & other mandated tests. Get the kids ready without wasting valuable class time cramming in test prep. An experienced teacher shares great ideas that have worked for standardized tests in her 3rd grade classroom.

The media has a lot to say about standardized testing which has caused parents to have strong feelings about it. Although you may have the best intentions sending a note home reminding them of the assessment and telling them to have their child get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast it may not be well received. Some take that to imply they don’t normally care for their children as well as they should. I've seen parents post angry rants on Facebook complaining about this. It would be best to let all communications regarding testing come directly from administration.

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Teach your students about growth mindset and discuss how it applies to all life situations (not just testing). This is truly one of the most important things you can teach your students and is well-worth the time investment. Resist the urge to say, “good luck” and spread that message to other staff members as well. They need to realize that determination, perseverance, and mindset play a much larger role than luck in being successful. The activities in the resource pictured to the left will make it easy for you to help your students think in a more positive manner in all areas.

Find ways to embed “test prep” into your regular routine, so you don’t need to stop teaching and dedicate days to review for the test. I had always found that even though my students had demonstrated proficiency in a standard earlier in the year, they often struggled with those same skills in the spring. To solve the problem I designed daily pages that continually reviewed not only the skills I had introduced, but also the foundational skills from the previous grade level that were necessary for new concepts I would be introducing. I was so proud to see how well they retained skills compared to the previous years not using these pages. The spiral reviews also made homework consistent and purposeful. 
Due to their popularity, I now have the Spiral Review available for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5. They are fast to correct, provide quick data analysis to guide instruction and include projectable versions (shown above) for lessons in class. I send home a page for homework Monday through Thursday and use the fifth page as an informal assessment in the “at your seat” station during Guided Math. (You can find all about how guided math significantly improved my instruction here: How to Teach Guided Math).

Other great ways to prepare for the standardized test without “test-cramming” include:
  • watching Brainpop videos
  • having the students design games as a fun way to review skills (grab the resource on the left for everything you need to do that easily)
  • revisiting task cards or games that you’ve played throughout the year

Strive for normalcy. We used to host a special “test day breakfast,” take kids outside to run around and release energy and allowed them to wear slippers during the test. These ideas were well-intentioned but caused the students to feel and act differently. Stay consistent with your regular morning schedule and routines until the test begins. 

Complaining to colleagues or sharing negative thoughts with students is not going to improve the current state of education. However, using your insight as a professional with first-hand experience regarding the impact of standardized tests you witness can bring change. Just focus on reaching the appropriate audience in a professional manner.

Dress comfortably and wear good shoes or sneakers. The proctoring guides for a standardized test (even at the elementary level) typically require the test administrator to be standing and walking around the classroom throughout the exam. This is not the time to break in a new pair of heels. 

Communicating to the children ahead of time what they will do upon completion of the test will alleviate anxiety about the unknown. Make it seem like it is a small part of a typical day. My suggestion is to have them read quietly at their seats. I once created an activity packet which in hindsight was foolish. What kid is going to want to do their best on a test if the alternative is drawing or word searches?

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