As April swings around again, the same events come to mind: spring cleaning, filing taxes, and end-of-year standardized testing for the students in your life. Each one of these activities requires organization, preparation, and the right mental attitude.
With more school options than ever, some requiring specific cut scores for acceptance, increased importance is placed on students’ end-of-year test scores on national achievement tests. For families with young children who have never experienced “high-stakes” testing, this can be a stressful experience. However, there are steps you can take to reduce testing anxiety and increase achievement.
First and foremost, it is important to recognize what stress and pressure is coming from you, the parent. We all want our children to do the best and be the best in their class. Having high expectations is not a bad thing. In fact, parents who set high expectations for their children from a young age instill personality traits such as motivation and determination that become second nature. However, when the drive to outperform others becomes the only focus, students can become riddled with the fear of failure. It is important to remind students that doing their best on these tests is a personal goal.
Reduce the pressure to be the best in the class by emphasizing the importance of individual achievement. Competition is healthy and drives motivation to succeed. Keep that competitive spirit alive, but the only opponent should be one’s own past performance. Help your child set goals that focus on improving his or her individual score and not goals that focus on outperforming other students.
Set the Tone
Secondly, the mood and tone you use to talk about “high-stakes” testing with your children is important in setting them up for success. It is true what they say: Children’s brains are sponges. They absorb new information as well as unspoken information in the form of their physical environment. Teachers recognize this in their classrooms and make efforts to create a calm, comfortable space for students to do their best. As you talk about new testing scenarios in which young students may not be familiar, be sure to remain positive and encouraging. Now is not the time to debate the fairness of standardized tests or rehash negative personal experiences with these types of assessments. Keep the mood light and comfortable when discussing the test. Without even knowing it, children adopt their parents’ attitudes on issues and events they have not experienced before. Give them the best chance for success by always being positive and reassuring when talking about school in general.
During these conversations, let your child tell you how they are feeling about the upcoming assessment. Depending on your child, they may have a lot to say on the issue, or not much at all. Give them an opportunity to tell you how they are feeling and push them to be truthful and open. For young students still new to a week of standardized test taking, they may have a lot of questions or feelings of nervousness and anxiety. By simply giving them a safe space to discuss fears and doubts, negative feelings can be released and start to diminish.
Test Prep Tips
Now that you have eliminated pressure and set the right mood toward standardized achievement tests, follow these test prep tips to make the week of testing smooth sailing. First, in the weeks leading up to testing time, make sure your child is at school and well-rested each day. New information and test-taking strategies will be discussed and practiced every day leading up to the test. Do not miss these opportunities to rehearse for the big day! Second, ask your child’s teacher which specific skills need strengthening and set time aside at home to work on these skills. Use this information to guide study time at home. Speaking of study time at home, make sure your child is working in a quiet, well-lit environment and taking short mini-breaks to stretch or get moving. Again, sleep is very important, so study time should never impede on a good night’s sleep.
Be your child’s biggest cheerleader this testing season. By implementing good study habits, knowing what skills your child needs specific help with, and making test taking a game of self-improvement — not outsmarting classmates — you and your child will make it through end-of-the-year testing with flying colors!
Emily Jamerson is a teacher in the CLUE gifted-learning program at Snowden School in Memphis.