7 State Testing Strategies to Support Your Students

This time of year, the energy level in a classroom seems to spring to life. The excitement of outdoor recess and the anticipation for summer make students buzz with excitement.

It also brings state testing season - a time of year that can feel more daunting than deciding on a Netflix show on a Friday night.

Remember when state tests were just another day at school? Now, it feels like the stakes are as high as my caffeine levels on a Monday morning.

When Tests Were Just Tests

Reflecting on my school days, state assessments were hardly the nerve-wracking marathons they are today. I remember the simple act of breaking open the test booklet, armed with nothing but a #2 pencil and the quiet anticipation of questions unseen. Fast forward, and the landscape has transformed dramatically, with a discernible shift towards an intensity around these tests that begs the question: Are we focusing too much on the scores at the expense of genuine learning?

Beyond the Bubble Sheets

I wholeheartedly agree that we need to know what our students do and don’t know…but is a state assessment going to tell us that information? The resounding echoes of "no" from both my college students and fellow educators reinforce my belief that perhaps, it's time to revisit our approach to state assessments. This isn't to diminish their value as a tool for gauging academic standing, but rather to spotlight the undue stress it places on our special needs community.

Control What You Can

With the testing season on our doorstep, grumbling about its arrival will do little to stave off its inevitability. Instead, let's face it head-on. While we might not control the existence of state tests, we can certainly control how we approach them.

1. Familiarize Students with the Test Format

Creating a test environment that mirrors the actual setup can demystify the experience, especially for students with anxiety or sensory issues. Whether it's arranging desks to replicate the testing layout or practicing with digital versions of the test, the aim is to make the day feel as typical as possible.

2. Teach Test-Taking Strategies

 State assessments often phrase questions differently than classroom exams. Teaching strategies like highlighting key parts of a question or the process of elimination can equip students with the skills to tackle these tests more effectively.

3. Use Accommodations Effectively

Have you ever tried tackling a fancy recipe for the first time, completely clueless about the steps or ingredients? It can be a disaster! That's kind of what test day can feel like for students with disabilities if they haven't practiced using their accommodations.

Accommodations are like the secret tools that help students with disabilities show off their skills on tests. They level the playing field. So, don't just hand them the list - give them a chance to practice working with a scribe, using assistive technology, or getting comfortable in a separate testing location. This way, they'll be prepped and confident come test day.

4. Address Test Anxiety

 Test anxiety can creep in on anyone, but students are more prone to test-related stress. Alleviating some of the testing pressure is crucial, particularly for students who might find the testing environment overwhelming. Teaching students to recognize test anxiety and giving them mindfulness exercises to use can significantly improve test performance.

5. Maintain Routine

State testing seems to have a ripple effect on the school, especially with the schedule. While schedule changes can’t be avoided, keeping the days leading up to the test as normal as possible can help reduce anxiety. A predictable environment is comforting, particularly for students who thrive on routine, such as those with autism.

6. Reinforce the Value of Effort

 Cultivating a classroom culture that prizes effort and learning over scores fosters a growth mindset. Celebrating improvements and efforts nurtures an environment where students are motivated to learn and grow. 

7. Post-Test Reflection

Following the test, take the time to reflect. Discuss what strategies worked and what could be improved upon. This reflection is a stepping stone for future growth and learning.

Shaping Confident, Resilient Learners

You know the feeling – another round of state testing! But remember, special education teachers like you are here for so much more than drilling facts. We ignite the spark of learning in their eyes and build their resilience when things get tough.

Sure, these tests matter, but they're not the whole picture. Let's use these strategies to turn test season into a springboard, not a roadblock. With the right approach, we're not just surviving – we're coming out stronger, with even more awesome skills under their belts.

Remember, these tools aren't about shortcuts. By familiarizing students with the format, teaching effective test-taking techniques, and advocating for proper accommodations, we empower them with the skills and confidence to navigate challenges – tests or otherwise – with less anxiety and more success. Think of these strategies as building blocks for lifelong learning, a love that transcends any single assessment.

Don't let the conversation end here.

Tune in to my podcast, Special Education for Beginners, where we dive deeper into topics that matter to you, sharing stories and insights that inspire.

Eager to expand your toolkit? Check out these episodes today:
Episode 155: 7 Strategies to Support Your Students During State Testing
Episode 107: Personalizing Accommodations and Modifications with Shelley Kenow



50% Complete

Become a member and get FREE resources