Alternative Ways to Prepare Students for Standardized Testing

Every teacher, parent, and student dreads standardized tests because of the boring, tedious nature of the material and because of the emphasis placed on them. However, there are some alternative methods to standardize test prep that you can use on your class to make the whole process more engaging.

Check out the list below to discover these methods and how you can use them in your class!

What Is Standardized Testing?

Standardized testing is when a set of students of students are given tests that have the exact same questions, or questions from the same pool, and they are scored in a standard or consistent manner.

Opting Out of Standardized Tests

In 2015, President Obama passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which allows parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. In 2016, roughly 21%, or 230,000 children between third and eighth grade in New York state opted out. In 2017, that number slightly dropped to 19%.

Standardized Test Prep: Alternative Methods for Your Students

It’s a challenge keeping students engaged during class time dedicated to preparing for standardized tests. However, it doesn’t all have to be boring. Check out the alternative and fun ways of preparing your students for their standardized tests.

#1: Create Games

Learning the tedious material of a standardized test can be boring to the best of students, especially younger ones. But making your test prep into games can be an exciting way to break up the monotony.

Some games to consider:

  • Jeopardy: Make your students come up with questions for the answers, which will help them think about the tests from a different perspective.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: You can have one student at a time answer in front of the whole class or form small groups. Students could also “phone a friend” if they get stuck, to work in teams to solve problems.
  • Amazing Race: By setting up stations around the school with different clues, you can teach students how to problem solve under stress.

Other games such as Hangman, Wheel of Fortune, The Price Is Right, word searches, and crossword puzzles offer additional possibilities to create educational games that specifically cover standardized test material.

#2: Stretching Before the Test

On test day, there will be plenty of nervous energy in the room, both from you and your students. You’ll be wondering if they are prepared, if they had a good breakfast, or if there was something that you missed.

But there’s nothing left to cover. The only thing you can do at that point is help your students burn off some of their own nervous energy.

Stretching and light aerobics are great ways to burn that energy and wake up their brains. It can be even that much more beneficial if you’ve incorporated this strategy before every class, test, quiz, or even just before your standardized test prep to create a routine for your students.

#3: Test with Time Limits

One of the traps that students, especially nervous students, fall into is taking too much time with difficult questions. By giving students timed tests or short quizzes throughout the year helps teach them how to stick to a time limit.

Some teachers have even found success by giving students a difficult question, similar to those that may appear on standardized tests, and give only a couple minutes for students to solve them. Then, this could lead into peer review or group discussions about the question and allow students who answered the question correctly show their process.

#4: Involve Parents

Many parents are just as concerned about standardized tests as their children, especially if the tests are for school or grade placement. The thing is, that nervous energy can rub off onto the students.

Involving parents about when the test is scheduled for, what it’s going to cover, and why it’s being administered, as well as some of the strategies you’re using to prepare the students, is a good way to put the parents’ mind at ease.

Correlation Between a Child’s Home Life and Their Performance in Math

One study by the U.S. Department of Education found nearly 90% of the difference in eighth grade mathematics standardized test scores were attributed to parental control over three factors:

  1. School attendance
  2. Varied reading materials at home
  3. Regulated television watching

#5: Create a Positive Atmosphere

This is much easier said than done, no matter what age of students you teach. However, a positive environment can have a profound impact on your students and their test-day levels of stress.

There are a variety of options to create this atmosphere, but it all starts with you and your stress level and remaining calm, especially while students are struggling with key concepts.

Some strategies can include having an open discussion with your class about what stresses them out, what are some key topics they’re not sure of, or having fun, non-test related books in the class to keep their minds off of the tests.

You do need to find the balance between “stay calm” and “this is a big deal, so be prepared”. But creating an open dialogue with your class and remaining calm yourself, will help your students stay calm and perform at their best.

The Day of the Test

At the end of all this preparation, it’s time to trust your students. For some, simply you saying they are ready will give them additional confidence.

Many teachers and districts have found that keeping test day as close to a regular day is more effective than creating t-shirts with motivational slogans or offering breakfast on the day of the test, but not other days.

Stick to the routine you’ve used while reviewing standardized test material, which will help your students perform better than a motivational slogan.

How to Effectively Integrate Standardized Test Prep into Your Curriculum

Curriculum design and preparing your students for standardized test success starts with understanding the test, the different components, and finding older versions of the test so that you can create lessons for your students.

Other techniques to incorporate into your curriculum include:

  • Cover heavily emphasized topics well in advance
  • Use older test questions in quizzes and tests
  • Emphasize critical thinking with your students
  • Get students used to showing their work
  • Practice test-taking skills with students
  • Develop cross-curricular lessons and activities

Some research has shown that by combining topics and using cross-curricular activities helps students understand topics in a more holistic manner and to help students learn more authentically.

These are higher level concepts usually covered during a master’s in teaching or a master’s in education program. Plus, many teachers work full-time while pursuing their advanced degree, so they can immediately apply lessons and topics to class situations.

Are Standardized Tests Developmentally Appropriate?

According to a 2015 study of more than 1,500 National Education Association (NEA) members, 70% do not believe their primary state assessment is developmentally appropriate for students.

Types of Standardized Tests

Some of the types of standardized tests include:

  • Achievement tests: designed to measure the knowledge and skills students have learned during a period of time.
  • Aptitude tests: are “forward-looking” or attempt to predict how well students will perform in a future educational or career setting.
  • College admissions tests: these tests are used as indicators of intellectual and academic potential. However, there has been a great deal of debate about the accuracy of these tests, which is why some grad schools no longer require the GRE or offer waivers so applicants can avoid taking these tests.
  • International-comparison tests: these tests are given to representative samples of students in a number of countries to monitor achievement trends and compare educational performance.
  • Inventory tests: administered to measure the degree of mastery of a specific subject before teaching to determine what students know so teachers have a better sense of where to begin and what to cover.
  • Personality tests: generally, these tests are used for placement of students with learning problems.
  • Psychological tests: designed to measure a person’s cognitive abilities and other characteristics, such as IQ tests.
  • Teacher-made tests: these tests measure the achievements, progress, weakness, or defects of each learner of a specific subject.

Purpose of Standardized Testing

Standardized tests come in all shapes and sizes, each with distinct reasons and goals. However, some of the most common purposes of standardized testing include:

  • To assess what students have learned
  • To identify strengths and weaknesses
  • To determine recipients of awards and recognition
  • For college credit
  • To judge student merit for an internship or college

Why Is Curriculum Important?

Creating an effective curriculum provides teachers, students, administrators, and parents with a measurable structure for quality education because it specifically lays out:

  • Learning outcomes and goals
  • Standards and core competencies
  • Structuring classes and lessons to meet those goals
  • Presenting course materials needed to achieve those goals
  • How these learning outcomes will benefit students

But creating curriculum includes more than those mentioned above. In fact, an effective curriculum teaches nonquantifiable lessons as well, or skills that will never show up on a test or in grades.

For instance, by going through courses, lessons, and assignments, students should learn the importance of responsibility, hard work, and reinforce positive behavior.

6 Unique Ways to Improve Standardized Test Scores

During recent years, many school districts have seen an increase in test scores because of a concerted effort among all teachers and faculty.

In addition, many schools and districts are turning to out-of-the-box techniques to put more resources to improving test scores, such as:

  1. Using grant money to hire outside consultants to identify and work with students with weak scores
  2. Offering additional after-school tutoring
  3. Paying an additional stipend for after-school team meetings
  4. Improving curriculum in math and language arts as an entire school
  5. Rewards and incentives for students and teachers who perform well
  6. Giving practice tests year-round and not just right before tests

Many districts have found that teaching a more complete approach to cognitive flexibility helps students develop better problem-solving techniques. This strategy seems to work better than item teaching or “teaching to the test”, which creates more rigidity.

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