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Preparing Students for Standardized Tests: 10 Tips for Elementary Teachers in 2022

Standardized testing in elementary schools has become the norm, and while we can’t completely take away the stress and anxiety it brings our students (and us as teachers), there are some steps teachers can take to get through testing with as little stress as possible. This post will support you in preparing students for standardized tests. Specifically, it will explain how standardized testing negatively impacts elementary students so you can be aware and take steps to reduce the negative effects. In addition, it suggests 10 tips and ideas for how to reduce stress for you and your elementary students before and during standardized assessments. Finally, it recommends resources to help your students retain key concepts and skills.

elementary student taking a standardized assessment

5 Ways Standardized Testing Negatively Affects Elementary Students

Below is a list of the negative effects of standardized testing.

1. Lost learning time

Students lose not just days, but weeks of learning time to prep for and and take the standardized tests.

2. Increased levels of stress and anxiety

Students sometimes feel pressure internally and externally – even if it’s not intended. The discussions surrounding testing at school and at home sometimes unintentionally puts a lot of pressure on students to perform at their highest level. Not only can this prevent students from accurately showing what they know, but can negatively impact them psychologically.

3. Decreased confidence

If students perform poorly on the test, it can negatively impact their self-esteem. As a result, they can begin to form a negative attitude towards school and their education.

4. Lost access to enrichment opportunities

Some school districts use data from standardized assessments to determine who gets admitted into highly-coveted enrichment opportunities. If a gifted student performs poorly on the assessment, then they could be blocked from a well-deserved opportunity.

5. Focused on the wrong things

While students should be focusing on learning, expressing their creativity, and expanding their thinking, the system has it set up so that the priority is for students to fill in the correct bubbles and score well on a test.

10 Tips for How to Reduce Test Anxiety before Standardized Assessments

Below is a list of tips for how to reduce test anxiety, so students can perform their best on standardized assessments.

1. Minimize testing importance

Avoid using the words “assessment” or “high-stakes test” when discussing the test. Do your best to have a positive attitude and refer to it as “an opportunity to show what you know.” In addition, 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.

2. Avoid changing the environment

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, especially for students with anxiety and other learning differences. If you need to reconfigure your classroom to meet the testing regulations, consider doing so before the actual test day to alleviate anxiety.

3. Create a relaxed vibe with a book

Gather the class on the floor for a picture book read aloud. I suggest the book Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes.

{click to purchase Pete the Cat via affiliate link}

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.

elementary teacher feeling overwhelmed and stressed about upcoming standardized assessments

4. Think through parent communication

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.

5. Encourage a growth mindset

Teach your students about growth mindset and 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. These are my favorite growth mindset activities for helping your students think in a more positive manner in all areas.

Growth Mindset Activities

6. Avoid cramming for the test

Find ways to embed “test prep” into your regular routine, so you don’t need to stop teaching and dedicate days to reviewing 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 began utilizing spiral review. I designed daily spiral review 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 my third grade students retained skills compared to the previous years when not using these pages! It led me to also creating them for first, second, fourth, and fifth grade teachers as well.

1st grade math spiral review worksheets as homework for the entire year2nd grade math spiral review worksheets as homework for the entire year3rdgrade math spiral review worksheets as homework for the entire year4th grade math spiral review worksheets as homework for the entire year

These spiral review resources are perfect for morning work, center work, and homework. They are incredibly fast to correct, they provide data to inform instruction, and include projectable versions to be used for lessons in class. I sent home a page for homework Monday through Thursday and used the fifth page as an informal assessment in the “at your seat” station during guided math workshop.

This photo was sent taken by a 2nd grade teacher in CT. Thanks, Sara!

In addition to spiral review, I used progress-monitoring assessments to help me address gaps in real time through whole group, small group, or one-on-one instruction.

1st grade benchmark assessment tests for math standards2nd grade benchmark assessment tests for math standards3rd grade benchmark assessment tests for math standardsgrade benchmark assessment tests for math standards5th grade benchmark assessment tests for math standards

In addition to implementing the spiral review and progress monitoring resources, consider these other review activities: Brainpop videos, student-designed games, and previously-used instructional materials (e.g. task cards and games).

7. Stick to your regular routines

Strive for normalcy in your classroom. My school 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. Instead, stay consistent with your regular morning schedule and routines until the test begins. This will help kids perform their best on the test.

8. Don’t be afraid to speak up

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.

9. Dress for success

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. 

10. Have a plan for early finishers

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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