Help Your Student Beat Test Stress
Walk into a classroom on a regular day, and you will see a variety of activities taking place. You may see children on the carpet sharing a book, a teacher working with a small group of children at a table, or other children independently completing a project.
But if you happen to visit during standardized testing week, you’ll witness an entirely different environment. The excited conversation and group work are now replaced by rows of desks filled with silent and serious faces. A usually animated teacher is now reading the scripted directions word for word. Whether you are a proponent of standardized testing or not, the reality is that today’s districts, schools, teachers and students are all under serious pressure to perform.
Having administered this test for many years, I’ve found that parents often experience anxiety about the test, and while they make every effort to support their child, even the well-intentioned parent can end up doing things that create additional stress.
On the other hand, parents who are well informed, understand the nature of the test, and realize what their child is experiencing, can provide strong support. Here is information I share with my parents.
1. What’s on the test?
All questions are directly correlated to the California State Standards, which your child’s teacher has been teaching all year.
2. When is the test?
Each school district creates its own testing calendar, but all schools must complete the testing within the 21-day testing window. Generally, this is from late April to mid/late May. Check with your child’s teacher for exact dates.
3. How can I help prepare my child?
Though tempting, I do not recommend trying to cram in new facts or teach new content. That usually causes more test anxiety than good learning. This brings up another point: although the test is administered in April/May, students are expected to know a full year’s worth of curriculum.
Rather than cramming new information, I suggest reviewing test-taking strategies with your child. This will give your child confidence, and carry over to future tests. Here are some strategies I teach my students:
- Check your work. When students are finished, they should look over the section to make sure they have answered every question and selected one answer for each question. Every answer bubble must be filled completely. Stray pencil marks on the test will cause the scoring apparatus to register an incorrect answer.
- Listen carefully to instructions. Certain sections of the test print only the answer choices. Students must listen to the teacher read the question, use the scratch paper to take notes, and select their answer. The question is read twice.
- Make a reasonable guess. Reassure your child that they are not expected to know the answer to every question. When they encounter a difficult question, they should eliminate obviously wrong answers and make their best guess.
- Use scratch paper. When students use scratch paper to do their calculations, they avoid careless mistakes. In the math section, this is especially important.
4. What can I do during testing week?
Ask your child about the test without prying, and offer positive encouragement such as “You’re doing your best, and that’s what’s important!” “I know you’re working hard. Keep it up!”
Keep your evenings free during testing week. Most teachers will modify or eliminate homework to ensure students are getting a good night’s sleep. The test requires students to be focused and at their best.
Don’t schedule any family trips that will cause your child to miss the test. Students who are absent must make up the test when they return. Your child will be pulled out of the class to another room to complete the test. The unfamiliar environment puts added stress on the student.
Make sure your child has a healthy breakfast and arrives at school on time. Once the test begins, doors are closed to avoid disruptions. Tardy students must wait in the office until their class has completed the test section. They then must take the make-up test later.
By nature, tests cause stress, but parents can avoid adding pressure by being informed and knowing how to support their children. While we want our children to ace any standardized test, as educators and parents we must remember that they are just one component of measuring academic achievement.
Michelle Ohye has been an elementary school teacher for 14 years in Cupertino, Santa Clara and Foster City. She is now the director of Achieving Stars Academy in Milpitas.