Balancing Student Preparation for Standardized Testing

Testing preparation is part of the school calendar

As the seasons move from winter to spring, we start preparing for the vernal equinox by planting flowers, cleaning the attic, and reviewing for standardized testing. Many students across the country have begun intense testing practice well before the changing of seasons, leaving them in a state of burnout and apprehension.

The culture of testing

Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind in 2002, standardized testing has become the driving force behind many curriculum-based school initiatives, lesson planning, and administrative decision-making. A greater focus on accountability has led to a byproduct of dependency on standardized test scores to validate the educational efforts of a school. This can lead to extreme measures in order to create the type of scores teachers feel are demanded of them.

Students can spend anywhere from 60 to more than 110 hours in preparation for standardized testing each year. For educators who recognize that their community views standardized achievement test scores as a gauge for measuring the quality of education, this amount of preparation is a necessary evil.

The inherent belief for educators when it comes to standardized testing is that it is a time-consuming factor of education that produces limited information regarding a student’s educational experience. However, even with the greater leniency offered in the area of mandatory testing through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it has become difficult for the education community to move from the mindset that test scores are a top priority.

As a result, the academic time students expend during the administration of standardized testing is compounded by the amount of time set aside for rigorous test preparation.

Spreading the wealth

As a learning culture, your school needs to be aware of how much test prep is being required of students and how this is affecting the makeup of their day.

If a teacher is concluding the introduction of new concepts at the end of January in order to allot more time for rudimentary test prep such as bubbling multiple-choice answers in a booklet, she is doing a disservice to herself and her students. Integrating review throughout the year can serve the same objective in a manner that not only spreads out the experience into digestible portions for students, but also allows teachers to gain formative data throughout the school year in regards to the level of mastery and retention a student has achieved for various topics.

Preparing students for success

Dr. Matt Larson, author of several Houghton Mifflin Harcourt math books, recommends building test-taking skills into everyday lessons. Not every classroom work session should mirror the sterile environments required for state-mandated testing. Rather, teachers should question, model, and demonstrate various problem solving representations typically displayed in standardized assessments.

This process builds familiarity for students along with greater confidence and comfort in different testing formats. Exposure to key vocabulary terms throughout the year, with frequent review for mastery, will lead to greater student preparation than intensive study sessions that can cause fear and anxiety.

Play and build confidence

Imagine if test preparation was viewed as a fun activity rather than silent time in front of a worksheet. Not only would this promote student engagement, it would allow teachers more opportunity for creative lesson planning over simply teaching to the test. Activities that allow for a “no stakes” environment where the focus is on having the students display what they know while integrating activities that align with other intelligence areas (i.e. musical-rhythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal) brings all types of learners into the fold.

Standardized testing is part of the educational landscape. As a result, test preparation is part of the learning experience. Teachers have options for how test prep is integrated into their classrooms. Regardless of how high-stakes assessments are viewed in your school, district, or state, the best way to prevent “teaching to the test” is to always “teach to the child.” Develop an educational environment where growth, engagement, and the needs of each student are the highest priority.

Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

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