How To Help Prepare Your Student For A Test
contributed by Dan Henderson, Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching
At the moment, standardized testing is here to stay in America.
Since we subject our students to these tests of achievement, we might as well help our students succeed. Here are a few tips to help your students become successful when they have to endure a standardized test.
1. Practice success so they know what it feels like.
Have you given your student the opportunity to know they are successful? It is beneficial for the student to see a correct answer on a test and praise their work. When I create a practice test, I make at least my first two questions a review of the standards. All of my students get these first few questions correct.
This practice test of success should be done one to two weeks before the big standardized test with no more than 10 questions. Additionally, do not have all the questions be multiple choice. Any long-term transfer of knowledge will not be retained by cramming, so you might as well put your students in a positive state of mind by motivating them with a practice test in which they got at least a few correct answers.
2. Help them learn to justify their answers with questions.
Whether with groups of two to four or in the whole class have the students justify their answers on the practice test. Start this activity by asking your students questions about their chosen answers. Many times answering a question in groups is more beneficial than students completing a test and never circling back. If you want to know what questions to ask, check out A Quick Guide To Questioning in the Classroom.
3. Create a positive state of mind.
The day of the test will arrive with mixed anxiety for your pupils. Some may be taking the SATs or you will have a third-grader with a pencil in his nose. At this point, it is the student’s state of mind that will determine how long they stick with a problem. If they give up early, it won’t matter how much information they have retained during the year. Praise hard work, give them a pep talk, or any strategy you use to bring positivity will work. The real importance is that a positive tone is set.
While am I not a huge fan of standardized testing, I do realize these tests analyze the transfer or retention of knowledge over a year. I understand the need for an independent agency outside my school to test for retained knowledge. We need something to test for achievement, but the atmosphere created by this new testing security would make anyone anxious.
The heightened testing security could rival the security at Fort Knox. Also, these tests lack multiple ways for students to express knowledge on the exam (aka multiple choice). These protocols have left my brain cells longing for dementia as I try to restrain myself from screaming as I proctor these standardized tests in our schools. Schools that have be retrofitted to communist-style prisons for this testing season.
What Testing Looked Like For Me This Year
My recent standardized testing nightmare. A testing story from my school…
A dull blade pierces the teacher’s psyche. Time for the proverbial standardized testing season. The strict demands made on proctoring over these students transform the once energetic teacher into a futuristic robot. I am told by my test coordinator that I cannot add any emphasis in my voice, as I could potentially give a student a clue to an answer.
“So, I talk like a robot?” I ask the test coordinator in a subtle jest.
“No, just normally.” She turns her head away from me, ignoring my joke in an attempt to enforce the absurd rules she is required to follow. Quickly she goes back to the monotonous PowerPoint presentation, now on slide 32.
Due to cheating scandals across our nation that have been a source of national embarrassment, schools systems have ramped up testing security. I try my best not to mock the presentation, but after slide 53 I whisper to my coworker in my robot voice. “Complete all answers mortals or you will be eliminated.” As I long for old age to take this memory away, tomorrow will be the first day of testing.
Tensions are high the first day of testing because a testing monitor from the downtown office is monitoring each test proctor’s every move. I slowly remove the testing booklet from the secret envelope assigned to me. The central office monitor whispers in a Russian accent, “Hello Mr. Bond I see you have the secret code.” With dark black hair and her hair in a tight bun above her head, the test monitor is taking her mission as test coordinator seriously.
“Yes, with these codes I shall break you, I mean break the common core.” My Russian monitor gives me a seductive eyebrow raise and a provocative slit in her dress exposes her upper thigh as to indicate she wants my digits.
“Dan, Dan,” I snap to reality as she impatiently asks, “Are you going to put the test codes on the board?”
“Yes, I’m so sorry.” I write the codes and tense up again as all eyes watch me write the four digits required to begin the test.
I start reading the directions in my designated robotic voice. I tell my students, “Choose between A, B, C, or D. Eliminate the incorrect answers. If you do not choose the right answer you will also be eliminated.”
The boys and girls laugh at my robot “from the future” voice. My monitor is not amused as she scribbles furiously in her notepad, clearly to inform my principal that I am not taking this standardized testing seriously.
I repeat the directions correctly to appease the monitor. I know my students need a well-timed laugh to release the testing stress. Monitor be damned; I was told by my test coordinator I had to talk like a robot, and I am a literal person!
The students’ eyes squint at the computer monitor as I begin to occupy my thoughts with no aid from books, the internet, or conversations with other adults. The hours seem to never end, and I am alone to ponder my thoughts with my only help really to give scratch paper and watch for cheaters. Students are absent, and it delays the process even longer. We cover all the walls with white posters boards so no student can gain knowledge from our posters of indescribable wisdom.
This room! With white padded walls, they have finally done it; they have put Dan in an insane asylum without my knowledge! Clever or maybe this is a secret initiative to put teachers in insane asylums to cut pension benefits. Five straight days of testing and my thoughts wandering in this direction. On the last day, my patience was nil.
The craziest part of this standardized testing process is that we can’t help the children with technology questions. All you can say is, “Try your best TRY YOUR BEST! ( x 1000 ).” Yes, we must eliminate cheating and gather a true snapshot of student knowledge. However, we can’t even help our students with the information they already know.
A student I am testing, Trevor, is trying to put a colon in the written response short answer question but doesn’t know how to type the colon on the computer. He asks me for help and my reply is “Try your best,” as I try to telepathically communicate the right keys to him.
Trevor knows the answer and is trying to give a time measurement response accurately on the computer. Trevor grabs my arm pleading, “It looks like this and proceeds to draw the colon on his scratch paper with the time of 9:30 am. Without the colon, the testing center has deemed his answer incorrect. Ridiculous!
With a hawk-like gaze, my monitor watches me screw up by helping the student. She will be able to write me up; the first useful thing she has done in weeks.
I look at the colon key on the board. All I have to do is point to the key so that Trevor can get credit for the work. What about the piece of paper you ask with 9:30 am written on it? Could Trevor get credit then? Luckily, most of the school budget has been relocated to send space shuttles with testing scratch papers on a trajectory into the corona of the sun.
For the last time and gazing at the test monitor I sarcastically repeat, “Try your best.”
Trevor looks down at the floor defeated. Standardized testing has become so anal that I cannot even provide him with the technical assistance in typing the correct colon key to give this student full credit. Trevor knows the answer, but his standardized tests say that, because he can’t find the colon key, he can’t tell time.
I don’t like these new rules. I know I am opening a can of worms on this topic. I see the benefits for and against standardized testing. However, there are multiple ways students can show their intelligence.
I regret that his teacher did not have the time to teach Trevor to press shift then the colon key, but he was able to provide a different way on scratch paper to formulate the correct answer. My complaint with standardized testing is two-fold. What real intelligence are we not capturing from our students? At best it’s part of the picture. (See also The Inconvenient Truths About Assessments.)
Why can there not be exceptions to provide multiple means of expression on a standardized test? The alternative tests leave much to be desired. Even if the question does allow for another means of expression, they are requiring the student to get every single portion of the question correct to get full credit.
Maybe it’s my fault.
I did not teach my class in my robot voice soon enough.
If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog at http://danhendersonthatsspecial.blogspot.com. You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co