It’s Testing Time Again: Help Students Prepare for Benchmark Assessments
by Therese Pickett on October 2, 2019
The beginning of a new school year brings about much excitement—new students, new teaching assignments, and new initiatives. Who does not love a clean slate to work with in the fall? But it can also be a time when educators and students feel some worry and pressure due to mandated high-stakes assessments.
Preparations for the Benchmark 1 window are well underway across the country. You might be asking yourself, “How can I best prepare my students for these assessments and keep the stress to a minimum?” Well, we have gathered some tried-and-true strategies that can be easily incorporated into any school setting.
- View the benchmarks as a “Celebration of Learning” rather than assessments. Testing has a strong negative connotation for students and educators—flip that dynamic to alleviate anxiety.
- Get students, caregivers, and the community involved in ramping up for assessments with bulletin boards, songs, dances, cheers, and morning messages that promote a “You Can Do It” attitude. Many examples can be found on social media. So, there is no need to start from scratch.
- Once testing is completed, find ways to celebrate students’ efforts. One of my children’s principals would spend a day on the roof or allow students to duct tape him to the wall if the school increased by a certain number of points.
- Involve caregivers in promoting readiness for assessments, such as communicating ways to incorporate testing language at home during homework time.
- Teach families to utilize slow, deep breathing when situations feel stressful, a strategy that works well during a test.
- Promote a growth mindset at school and home. Students need to be encouraged to keep trying, to know it is OK to struggle a bit, but keep coming back to it.
- We all have heard about the importance of students eating a healthy breakfast on testing days. Could a local business help sponsor a family breakfast on testing mornings?
- Of course, as educators, we must incorporate activities throughout the year that assist students in assessments.
- Strategies such as previewing a text, eliminating distractors in multiple-choice questions, analyzing the questions including knowing what the question words mean (i.e. generalize, compare, discuss, etc.), and understanding visuals, like charts, graphs, and tables, can easily be included in everyday lessons.
- Utilize the same type of questions on unit quizzes or tests. Instead of a morning warm-up or journal have students answer a particular type of question about a concept previously introduced and then discuss how students worked through the question and answered. That discussion can help promote the cognitive model for test strategies that some students may be lacking. Some curricula, such as LANGUAGE! Live®, have built-in, explicit instruction in these areas.
- The most important step in preparing students for these high-stakes assessments is to differentiate instruction throughout the year to meet the needs of your students.
- Varying whole-class and small-group instruction is one way to find more time to focus on student needs.
- Another is to analyze the data from assessments and classroom work, find students’ strengths, weaknesses, and common errors, and weave in strategies such as color-coding, sorting, and utilizing hands-on manipulatives into everyday lesson activities.
- Providing opportunities for extra practice, reinforcement, and re-teaching to struggling students while on-level students work through more challenging activities can boost student achievement.
- Purposefully and thoughtfully planning that differentiation into lesson plans becomes habit quickly once practiced.
As long as benchmark assessments are mandated during the school year, a certain amount of pressure is going to be felt by educators and students alike. The ideas listed here are a few, but when utilized, can help everyone be more confident and focused during testing. When students are confident and focused, they succeed more.
Did you hear we have expanded our partnership with Acadience® Learning? We have the assessment tools you need to help analyze your data, determine which students are experiencing difficulty in reading and math, and plan the appropriate next steps for instruction. Developed by the original authors of DIBELS® Next, Dr. Roland Good and Dr. Ruth Kaminski, these are the same assessment tools you know and trust, featuring quick, reliable, and valid measures for all students.
Visit the Acadience® Reading K–6 page for more information about Acadience K–6 Reading assessments.
About the Author
Therese Pickett has served as an implementation specialist for Voyager Sopris Learning® for the past 13 years. During this time, she has enjoyed training, supporting, and collaborating with districts across the country to help students achieve their full academic potential. Before joining Voyager Sopris Learning, Therese taught junior and senior high school ELA and history in general education and special education classrooms. She lives in the Blue Water area of southeast Michigan with her husband and two children.