Preparing Students For State Testing

By Justin Lim on April 26, 2010

In my district, this is perhaps the most stressful time of the year. This is because state testing is about to begin. Administrators and teachers know that the scores from these tests will serve as an evaluation for our school and in some cases, for individual teachers. Students are anxious because all of their routine schedules have been rearranged and none of them are looking forward to four hours of testing a day. For those of us with a large population of English Learners, the struggles are amplified. High-stakes standardized tests can be a challenge, but they're a reality that cannot be avoided.

Here's how I help my students to face them:

1. Paint the whole picture - It's a surprise to me how little students know about the impact of state test scores. From what I've seen, many students don't take the tests seriously because they don't affect grades. In my class, I try to fill the students in on everything that state tests do affect. I let them know that our school is actually graded and compared to other schools across the state. I make sure that they understand terms like advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic. I don't like the idea of telling my students that they're being labeled, especially because most of my Read 180 students are below or far below basic, but I want them to know how they are directly affected.

2. Give them goals - I usually print up the previous year's results so that students can see how they performed. This allows them to set attainable goals and creates a great opportunity for self-evaluation. For the students who did not take the test seriously the previous year, it's a wake up call. In my Read 180 class, this is the first year that many of the students have experienced academic success, and they're anxious to prove something to their peers and teachers.

3. Take away the anxiety - It's no surprise that my kids dread taking 4-hour tests for three days straight, especially if English is their second language. While there is no way for me to completely remove their testing anxiety, I can make sure that they know exactly what to expect. Even the simplest things can make a difference, like having a good breakfast or bringing a sweater in case the testing room is too cold. I also tell them that there will be some kids who finish right away. From my experience, once a few students finish testing, the rest of the class starts to become anxious. I tell my kids that this is when it's most crucial for them to stay calm and to continue to focus. While I do not do a whole unit on test taking strategies, I make sure that we work through a few sample questions so that my kids know what to expect.

Ultimately, there is no single magic solution to ensure superior results on state tests; it takes a year of good teaching to do that. One thing that we can do though, is to show our kids that their performance is a big deal to us, and for most kids, that will be enough to make it a big deal to them.

What are some things that you do to prepare your kids?

Warm regards,

Justin Lim

Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District


I agree that this is an extremely stressful time of year for students. I have to admit that I feel bad for the students that don't test well. To me, this has to be a burdening task for a student who freezes when given a test. Especially considering this could be a student, who under other circumstances, is very capable and knowledgeable.

[Edit: Response]

Hi Anne,

I know exactly what you mean. When you consider the fact that sometimes we actually have to teach test-taking strategies, it really has implications for what is actually being tested. Great point.



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