Standardized testing season is just around the corner.  It can be a VERY stressful time for both teachers and students.  Over the years I have tried a zillion different things to help students relax and get through the tests. I was inspired to ask my students what had REALLY helped them to relax and do their best.  Without further ado I give you 7 Ways to Make Standardized Testing Less Stressful:

1.  Breakfast at School
Our school hosts a free breakfast before school on the first day of testing.  Students arrive early and head to the cafeteria. Breakfast choices include yogurt smoothies, bagels, fruit, cereal, and drinks.  Students, teachers, and staff members sit together, eat, and chat.  The kids can head out to recess when finished or stay inside and hang out with friends in the cafeteria.  The breakfast started with parent volunteers donating time and supplies and has evolved into a breakfast funded by the school.  It is a wonderful way to start the day and to ensure that all students have a full belly.

2.  Movement Breaks
My students love, love, love to move!  After the bathroom breaks and desktop clearing is finished we begin our special pretest movement break routine.  I use GoNoodle to get the students moving.  We begin with a fun Zumba routine to get our hearts pumping.  The students get to be silly, shake out the wiggles, and be loud!  Then, we choose a calming yoga routine to relax our minds.  Dancing + yoga = happy kids.


3.  Quick Write
Before we begin the test I pass out a single sheet of paper.  I ask my students to write how they are feeling about taking the test.  When finished they fold it in half and write their name on the front.  I collect it from them and move on with the test directions.  Students will often write about how nervous or stressed they feel.  Putting those thoughts on paper and getting rid of them (by handing them to me) helps clear the worries from their minds.  After everyone has completed the test session I hand out the papers again.  This time I ask them to write about their feelings now that the test is finished.  Most students will write that the tests weren't as hard as they had thought.  I love this activity because many kids will see that the worry was actually worse than the test.

4.  Days Between Sessions
We have two days of testing for ELA, two days of testing for math, and two days of testing for science.  Yay 5th grade in MA!  We decided to try scheduling our two days with a break in between instead of testing on consecutive days.  It seems to have helped the students stay more focused.

5.  Gum
Yes, that's right - gum.  My students can bring a few pieces of gum and/or small mints to school on testing days.  Tic Tacs or Life Savers are fine, but I don't allow large peppermints.  I don't think having to do the Heimlich during testing would be fun for anyone.  :)  The kids love being able to chew gum! And, believe it or not, they spit it out when finished without complaint.

Computer-based testing adds another layer when thinking about gum chewing during tests. As long as my students are responsible I allow it.

6.  Fun Testing Signs
I like to hang fun signs up on testing days. I am a HUGE Harry Potter nerd, so I created a Wizard testing sign.  I also have bubble gum and donut themed signs.  Click on the link at the bottom of the post to grab them.
7.  Extra Recess
An extra recess after testing is the ultimate reward!  Who doesn't love the chance to run around outside and play?  Of course in New England, we sometimes have snow to contend with and have to rely on free time in the classroom.  ;)

Standardized testing is something we all have to do on a yearly basis.  Helping students through the process can be tricky.

How do you make testing better for your students?

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    Teaching students to write a written response about their reading is very important.  It can also be a CHALLENGE.  Am I right?  Some of the challenges I have encountered include:

    • responses that doesn't answer the question being asked
    • responses that answer only part of a question
    • responses with an answer, but no text evidence to support it

    This used to drive me crazy, but not anymore!  I implemented the RACES strategy with my students this year and it has made a HUGE difference.
    text evidence

    Variations of this strategy (RACE, ACE, RACER, etc.) have been around forever. I like RACES the best. It is a really easy way to organize written responses. The acronym RACES stands for the five parts needed to write the answer.
    Restate the Question

    This is an important part of the process. Students need to understand what they are being asked before they can write an answer. Many questions that students will be asked to answer are not even questions. For that reason, I teach my students to analyze the question. Analyzing the question includes three steps: read the question or prompt, underline the key words, and restate the question as a statement. Here's an example:
    Describe how the main character was feeling at the end of the chapter
    Use important details from the text to support your answer.

    R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...

    Answer the question
    Next, students answer the question. If there is more than one part to the question students will need to answer ALL parts of the question. Example:
    R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...
    A - The main character was feeling excited.
    The answers to the first two steps leads to the topic sentence for the written response.  Easy peasy!
    At the end of the chapter the main character was feeling excited.

    Cite Evidence
    Using evidence from the text to support thinking is so important.  The evidence offers proof to show how they answered the question. I ask my students to cite at least two pieces of evidence unless the question asks for something more specific. Sentence starters can be helpful.  Here are some examples:
    According to the text...
    The author stated...

    Explain and elaborate text evidence
    This is where students put it all together by explaining how the evidence supports their thinking. I encourage my students to elaborate or stretch out their writing here, too.  Sentence starters are helpful for this part.  Here's a few examples: 
    This makes me think...
    This explains...

    Summarize thinking in a written response.
    I teach my students to end a written response with a concluding sentence.  An easy way to do this is to refer to the topic sentence and reword it to conclude the answer.  Here is an example:
    All in all the character was very excited at the end of the chapter.

    I introduce RACES at the start of the school year and usually review the strategy in the spring for test-taking purposes. (They create their own RACES organizer when we practice for this purpose.)  We are reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and the book offers many different topics to discuss.  To review RACES I posed the following question:
    Why did Miranda pretend to be sick on opening night?

    My students did a fantastic job!  Here are some work samples:

    I created some resources that I would LOVE to share with you.  Click here to try out a 3-page freebie. The freebie includes two pages that can be used to introduce the strategy to students. The pages can fit into writing notebooks or folders.  
    If you like the freebie you might want to check out my paid resource, too!  You can find that resource here.   

    I love, love, LOVE the RACES strategy.  What strategies do you use in your classroom?

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