Best Practices for Testing in School

best practices for testing in schools

I understand that there is a large contingent of people who think that best practices for testing in schools involves no testing whatsoever. Testing is a reality, however, so I’m sharing some best practices for testing in schools with the disclaimer that I’m not a fan of over testing.

Best Practice #1: Let them work at their own pace without comparing them to the “norm.”

If a child turns a test in quickly, allow it. I wrote quite a bit about why gifted kids often test quickly, and why that’s okay.

If the score is lower than you expected from the student, have the child work the missed problems (for partial credit or not, I don’t care) to see whether or not taking more time would actually resulted in a higher score.

If it wouldn’t, then asking (or forcing) them to take more time in the future will not help. If it would, then work through why those questions were missed and encourage the child to recognize and take more time on those types of questions.

As a teacher, I compare the types of questions that need more thinking to curves in the road, where even if you have a very fast car, you should slow down or you may crash it. Everyone’s curves will be different. Because gifted kids are often strong in figurative language, using this metaphor of a curvy road may help them.

Once, my son Joseph turned in a high stakes state test very quickly, using only about 15% of the time allotted. The teacher asked him to take the test back and look it over again with no more information at her disposal about how he’d done other than that he’d finished quickly.

This is punishing gifted kids for being gifted. Unless the child has a history of speeding through tests AND then getting a low score, this is not appropriate. It can actually breed test anxiety if the child begins to second guess him/herself.

Joseph perhaps should have looked it over; then he may have not missed the one question he got wrong.

If a student consistently takes a very long time to test, explore that more fully. Is there a working memory issue? Is the child paralyzed by perfectionism? Does the child have test anxiety?

Occasionally, kids are deep thinkers, not quick thinkers, and they just like to take their time. Accommodate that to the greatest extent possible.

Best Practice #2: Have appropriate respectful work for them to do when the test is over.

I’m calling it: it is abuse to force students to sit silently at desks for hours while other people finish a test. I don’t use that word “abuse” lightly. I mean it. It is developmentally inappropriate, and no reasonable adult would do it.

I used to go get my kids out of school on test days after the time I knew they would be done. I cannot imagine the horror of sitting for hours watching other people take a test. Asking an eight-year-old to do it is preposterous.

How do we fix this? First, we need to plan. Rather than dividing kids by alphabet or homeroom teacher for testing, we should divide them by the typical amount of time they take to test. That way, the entire group will finish around the same time, allowing for a moving forward in learning.

If that’s not possible, consider having groups of desks facing different directions so students can’t see everyone else. This may help them not feel pressured by others who finish before them.

Secondly, we need legitimate, respectful activities that students can do when they finish that will accomplish these goals:

  • not distract nearby test takers
  • not contain tested material (to prevent cheating)
  • not be too much of an enticement to rush (“If you finish, you can read your favorite book!!!”)
  • give a mental break while being a worthwhile experience

Best Practice #3: Have a finish game plan.

When kids finish, they should raise their hand to have the test collected and respectful work should be exchanged for the test. Don’t have kids get up to turn in the test, or the anxious finish-firsters start to rush.

Keep rustling down to a minimum by sharing silent ways students can stretch in their desks, keeping paper in page protectors, and avoiding anything squeaky.

Once everyone is done, let the wild rumpus begin! Well, at least yoga.

Gross motor exercise and a protein-based snack should be the order of the day, along with fresh air wherever possible.

Often, GT kids want/need to do a debrief of the test, so, making sure to follow the laws/regulations, let them talk about the experience in broad terms.

  • How many questions made you slow down? (That is, how many road curves did you find?)
  • How did the test compare with your expectation?
  • If you could take it again, what would you do differently?
  • How did it compare to previous testing experiences?
  • What type of student would have found this test particularly easy or difficult?

I find good after-test activities at Mindware, including their extreme dot-to-dots and other brainy goodness. They offer free sample pages on lots of it, so you can try it risk free.

The Part Where I Make the Superintendents Angry

No school should require students to sit for hours in a chair watching other people take a test.

Did I really just have to type that?

It is inappropriate, cruel, and an educational failure on the part of the administration.

If a district is doing so under the auspices of state requirements, then it is the duty of the district to completely understand what the requirements really are (I’ve seen total craziness explained by “that’s the rule” when it really isn’t) and then work to change the requirements that are bad for kids.

There is no way that we are not smart enough as a profession (and it is my profession) to figure out a better way. If your students are languishing in desks, you are not getting the best scores out of them because they will come to hate the experience, and the GT ones (who, by the way, are often awesome scorers) will finagle a way out of it altogether.

I believe every person in a district who has decision making power over testing should experience the testing environment in an authentic situation. Go take a test. Sit there as long as the kids do. Don’t go to the bathroom. Don’t get a drink. Don’t move. Don’t read a book. Just sit there. I promise it will be life changing for you.

If you’re an administrator with real power to affect change, do it. If you peer closely at the image below, you’ll see a teacher with a sign that says, “I am working for fairness for my kindergarteners.”

I hope that tugs at your heart.

Lead the way and then share how you did it.

If you tell me how you’re making testing more humane for your students, I’ll share it. I love to share how districts are being awesome.

What if you’re a teacher with no power?

If you’re a teacher, I hope you’ll do what you can within the constraints you have to make testing a better experience for gifted kids. Whining is not a strategy. Sorry.

You may not have control over high stakes tests, but you can control day-to-day situations.

  • prepare respectful post-test activities
  • create more complex tests for gifted learners to even out the testing time
  • allow water and snacks during tests

Share in a non-job-threatening way with superintendents, school boards and the state the impact of tests on kids.

This is a topic that has teachers across the nation in an uproar, as evidenced by this screenshot of the search results from Google when I searched “teachers protesting testing.”

best practices for testing in schools

What if you’re a parent worried it’s destroying your kid?

If you’re a parent, I hope this didn’t make you decide to pull your kids out of school altogether, but rather advocate in a respectful way towards a better system.

Avoid badmouthing the testing in the hearing of your student. That just leads to more problems.

Before you decide not to allow your child to be tested, keep in mind that that may really hurt the {innocent and powerless} teacher.

Make sure to have the child get lots of gross motor exercise after school on testing days, and if you need to schedule a dentist appointment for about 45 minutes after you know your child will be finished, necessitating the child’s not being able to sit in a desk all day, well…..

What if you’re a kid?

If you’re a gifted kid, understand that part of getting to the beach is hacking through the jungle.

Tests are the jungle, so just get out your hatchet (it looks like a pencil), and hack away.

You’ll make it out alive. Promise.

Do your own research into the rules set by the state on testing. Can you bring a book? Can you bring a snack? Learn how to draw a finger labyrinth or Zentangle to cope.

You can watch this video to learn how to draw a labyrinth by watching this video (easy, promise):

You can also print out some free ones.

Anything not specifically excluded should be allowed. Be nice about advocating your position.

Keep in mind that your good score helps your teacher, who is {unfairly, in my opinion} often judged {and even paid} based on how well you do. Be honest in your testing – not doing less well than you are capable of.

Remember that poor test scores typically lead to more tests, not better class experiences. Yep.

The bottom line.

Testing has been called a necessary evil, yet I don’t think it needs to be as evil as it is in its current iteration.

Let’s bring respectful back.

Let’s truly put ourselves in the child’s shoes (and seats).

We can do better. Start with these best practices for testing in schools and move forward with new and better ideas.

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best practices for testing in school - gifted guru

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