State testing season is officially upon us. A time of year that every teacher would prefer to be eliminated from the calendar, but the reality is that it’s part of our job. I’m going to tell you what I tell my students: this is not a defining moment. Sure, these tests are used for defining us as teachers and they are used for defining our students, but we are not the total sum calculated in that score.
Does that give us permission to blow off the test? No, because the reality is that this state test is not going to miraculously disappear. We aren’t going to wake up one morning and hear that the governor has declared all state testing canceled. As much as we all would love for this to be the scenario!
So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
Did you know that I sat on the Ohio AIR content advisory committee?
If I couldn’t make the test go away then I needed a way to understand it better. Once Ohio ditched the PARCC they started new teacher advisory committees to piece together the AIR test. Apparently, this is always the process of curating a standardized test.
A small committee of about 20 -25 teachers who have at least five years of teaching experience in that grade level work to decide on content. Teachers are chosen from a variety of districts around the state to represent the different demographic areas as well. All of the teachers chosen must apply for the committee.
The job of the committee is to ensure that test questions are aligned with grade level standards. Each question is presented as an assessment for a specific standard and if we feel the question doesn’t do that it can be rejected. There would have to be what’s called a “fatal flaw” within the question for that to happen. Most of the time a simple revision can fix a question.
Being an active participant and hearing this process helped me better understand assessments. It didn’t sway my opinion of how our state chooses to use these tests in determining teacher effectiveness, although not much would change my opinion on that. When it comes to state testing it’s too simplistic to say you agree or disagree with it. There is a need for evaluating student knowledge based on state standards and until there is a better way I will do what I can to help my students be better test takers.
Many students will have to sit for exams in order to further their careers so I like to look at test prep as if it’s a reading genre. Ultimately, every test is a reading test. Determine what they want you to show that you know and find the right answer. In my slide presentation on preparing for the Ohio AIR test, I go into specific detail about how students can use this to their advantage. You can also read more about lesson ideas I use for test prep here.
There are also environmental aspects to consider when preparing for a state test that can help students have a greater advantage. Here are six ideas for preparing your classroom for testing season.
1. Scent: Did you know that cinnamon helps to awaken the brain? In a brain science professional development we learned this little tidbit of information. The presenter did mention that it can’t be fake cinnamon like a plug-in or spray or even melted wax. Her suggestion was to sprinkle a little on a few plates and place those around the room.
2. Look: Most states mandate that any posters come off the wall if they could help the students. Plan to do this a week in advance so students aren’t throw off by the “new” look of your room on the day of testing. This could also make for a good review. Ask students to recall where anchor charts hung and what was on them.
3. Feel: Suggest to your students that they wear their brightest color clothing! Bright colors evoke positive feelings and stimulate the brain. It’s also better to wear clothing that it’s too comfortable. Sweat pants and sweatshirts can make a person feel too relaxed and sleepy. I like to talk about the idea of dressing for the job you want, only I change it to dressing for the score you want.
4. Taste: Peppermint is a flavor that helps to awaken the brain and senses. We buy or PTO donates bags of the peppermint hard candies for students to suck on while testing. Cinnamon gum can also have the same effect. What you eat can also make a difference. Don’t forget to tell your students the importance of a high protein breakfast the morning of each test. High protein – low sugar. Protein allows energy that is prolonged, while sugar will give them a jolt then crash before testing is even over!
5. Sound: Silence can be deafening for some kids. They need opportunities to practice prolonged silence. Extended silent reading is great practice. Even a computer task without headphones. These are especially important if the norm in your classroom is background music and headphones during independent work time.
6. Emotion: One final tip that could help your students make a personal and emotional connection to a very impersonal assessment. Test dedications: it’s the same concept as athletes dedicating their performance or the dedication page at the start of every novel. Ask students to think about someone who has helped or encouraged their education. Have them write a small paragraph about why they deserve this honor then paste their picture next to it. Have students hang their dedication where they can see it while testing.
If you’d like a free downloadable test dedication printable simply add your email below. You’ll get access to this and many other free printables in our growing resource library.
Do you have other ways to help students prepare or feel ready for the test? Share your best test-taking strategies in the comments!