Spring is finally here! And with all the new buds and blooming flowers comes state testing. Sigh.
Deep down, we teachers know that a standardized test doesn’t give you a full picture of a student’s intelligence. However, year after year, state testing is used to "determine" how districts, schools, and (ultimately) classrooms are performing. It is a stressful time for everyone—I have seen both teachers and students cry because they are stressed about their performance. As you enter this testing time of year, here are some helpful tips to ease the stress:
- Remain Calm and Reassuring: Students need to see that you are confident that they will perform well. Post encouraging quotes, review the necessary material, and allow time for students to ask questions. Let them know how much growth you have seen this year and reassure them that they will do well. Your positive vibes will be contagious!
- Individual Conferences: Set up a time to meet with each student and discuss their goals, fears, and concerns. Offer advice for specific skills students need to work on. Give practice tests when applicable and discuss results to try to pinpoint certain skills. Review previous test scores and set a target score. Have students write down their own goals and concerns—the act of writing helps ease stress. If possible, have your principal meet with students to offer words of encouragement.
- Proper Sleep: Stress the importance of getting a good night’s sleep before testing—this is imperative for performance. Send home a note to parents to let them know when testing will take place so they can make sure their students are well rested. Proper sleep allows the brain to process the material that has been learned and improves memory. If possible, allow for a quick 10-minute nap before distributing the test.
- Deep Breathing: Teach students to breathe from the abdomen—this allows for a full oxygen exchange of incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide. This exchange lowers blood pressure and can instantly calm students. Take a few minutes to breathe deeply before passing out those tests!
- Stress Balls: Let students use them as they are taking the test. The act of squeezing the ball can actually release tension. In addition to this, research has shown that a physical activity such as squeezing a stress ball can help regain focus.
- Lavender Spray: Mist lavender spray in your classroom before the test. Studies have shown that this scent can enter the amygdala—the emotional center of the brain—and provide instant relaxation. Plus, it will make your classroom smell great!
- Yoga Poses: Practicing a few simple yoga poses can help your students calm down and regain focus. Yoga is a mind-body activity that uses breathing, meditation, and movement, and has actually been proven to reduce stress.
- Recess/Dance Party: Let your students move around before the test. Physical activity has been proven to release endorphins, which can improve memory and alertness as well as create a positive feeling. This simple act of exercise can help boost those test scores!
- Peppermints: Give your students peppermints to suck on while taking the test. Many people feel it is calming and can help stimulate thinking. On a creative note, you could put a fun note with it such as “I mint to tell you how awesome you will do on this test!”
- Healthy Diet: Stress the importance of healthy eating during testing. Studies have shown that student performance is closely linked to a proper diet. Provide healthy snacks before the test—perhaps give students apples (which have been known to reduce anxiety) or blueberries (which are a great brain food).
- Classical Music: Play classical music in the background as students are testing. There are many benefits of classical music, such as reducing anxiety, improving memory, and lowering blood pressure.
- Testing Assemblies: Have younger students make cards and signs for older kids with encouraging words such as “Do your best on the test!” or “You’ve got this!” Having a school assembly can create a sense of community and motivate students to do well.
- Test-Taking Strategies: Be sure to teach students basic strategies such as pacing, reading the entire question, making smart guesses, answering the easy questions first, and checking work carefully. Knowing a few “tricks of the trade” can really ease stress for students and help them feel more prepared.
While these tips can help reduce stress and anxiety for your students before taking the test, the most important aspect is your attitude, so know this: You have taught the objectives and standards all year long. You have worked tirelessly to prepare, teach, reteach, and assess within your own classroom. You have differentiated instruction when needed, challenged when possible, and been there for each and every one of your students. You have contacted parents to let them know their students’ progress. You have given practice test after practice test to prepare your students. You have motivated, encouraged, facilitated, and helped ease their stress. You have done your job—now sit back and watch them do theirs.
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