Tips for a Successful Testing Season

Testing is such a controversial topic these days in public education, but, whether we like it or not, it is something we will go through annually in some form or fashion.  I’m not here to debate the politics or even push my own agenda one way or another.  I am here to share a few tips that I have used over the years that can make your testing session a bit less stressful.

Before Testing

  • Computer-based testing grades. Whatever your subject area, if you can work in computer skills ahead of time during the year, it can be very helpful to students, especially in a tested subject area.  The more hands on practice they can get in real world scenarios with the subject on the computer, the more likely they will be to retain them and be tested on content, NOT computer skills.  Not every school has computer courses and not all will be able to create a connection between those skills and your subject matter, so it is a huge help if you can work those in.
  • Read the testing manual as soon as you get it.  Yes, I know it’s a script. Yes, I know you may have done it before.  Yes, I know your testing coordinator gave you the Cliff’s Notes version at your training.  But you are legally accountable for what happens during the test.  Wouldn’t you like to know more than what was pointed out to you?  If you have questions about something, be sure to compile them and get them to your testing person.
  • Practice your voice.  You don’t want to sound like a robot.  If you sound bored or rushed or like it doesn’t matter, guess what—that is how they will act.  Plus, practiced sounds like you know what you are doing and, if it is new for you, that will help!  I have found that the infomercial announcer voice is the most fun and engaging with the kids, but it takes practice!
  • Prep your testing space.  If there is even the slightest chance that something hanging in your room could help your kids on the type of test they are taking, cover it or take it down.  Depending on how close testing is to the end of the year, it could be a great jumpstart to breaking down your classroom.  Not to mention that, sometimes the visual clutter in a space can increase stress for high anxiety testers.  A clean and clear space can really help them out.
  • Make name tents for your group.  It only takes a few minutes and can even be done on index cards folded in half, or you can be a lot more creative with a computer or craftsmanship.  Primarily, it helps them know where to sit when they arrive in a way that makes it easy for me to administer the test—a bonus if you are testing kids you don’t know!  You can have them alphabetically, by accommodation, separate the friends or put the easily distracted away from distractions.  If you have time, having prep tips on the back can help, like where to put their bags or devices, to go use the bathroom or get water, etc.  These can be collected and reused if you have the same kids for multiple test sessions, too. I put them on top of the monitor or tower in a computer-based testing room or on the dividers or desktop in a paper-based testing room so that they are easy to spot.  This also makes filling in the seating chart faster while you walk around during the test.
  • Poem or treat.  Many teachers like to have a silly poem, a snack, bottle of water, gum or mint for their kids.  I used to do this in my early years, but as testing has stretched from 1-2 days to 8-10, I have found it to be impractical.  I will have a bucket of mints or gum for them, but the wrappers and trash can be a distraction or mess, so have a plan.  Often, I hold the mint until the stretch break since my level of kids take longer tests and this is a good time and avoids distractions, although some seem to save it until they finish, almost like a victory treat.  If you do want to do something more, usually a poem and a pencil they can keep can do the trick.  I don’t recommend doing something if you aren’t going to continue it for each test day.  One year I brought donuts on day one and they came in the next day expecting me to feed them again—but I had nothing!  I did the bottle of water thing one year, but I had so many that were nervous sippers that I had a lot more bathroom disruptions that year, so I tossed that idea as well.
  • Quell their anxiety.  Whether they are prepared or not, there is little that can be done in the few days leading up to the test or on the day of.  Reassure them that they will be fine no matter the outcome—especially if this is not a promotion-based test.  The worst that’ll happen is they will be in a support class to help them do better. If it is promotion-based, then they need the confidence boost. Don’t make them think it isn’t important, though.
  • Environment. Make sure to have a comfortable temperature in the room and no broken chairs or keyboards with the feet up/down differently on each end.  Check that headphones, keyboards and mice are plugged in if using computers, and have alcohol pads on hand for cleaning them when they arrive.  I also like to clean the desks and have a light fragrance of lemon or lavender in the room to make it smell more like home than a classroom, when I can.  Also, have a signal for a material issue or a bathroom.  I like to have them hold pencils up for broken pencil, hand up for computer issue, or crossed fingers for a bathroom break, but do what works for you and your room that will create the least distraction.
  • Know your school’s protocols and procedures for major and minor issues during testing.  Think everything through and be prepared so that you can keep your cool.  Make notes of minor things—I keep a log of bathroom break times, any technical issues like having to move someone to another computer and when, my sleepers or daydreamers—it sounds like a lot more work than is needed, but if something comes up after, I have a record.
  • Prepping YOU.  Yes, you need to be prepared!  I have a rolling cart I stash my testing stuff in until my season is done, that way I don’t have to locate anything and am ready to go as soon as I pick up my testing materials day of.  If you are testing a computer-based test, turn off the sounds on your computer.  In addition to your testing materials, some items I have found helpful to have but may not always be in my testing kit—
    • Tissues
    • Tape
    • Dry erase marker/chalk for the board
    • Pens
    • Pencils
    • Post it notes
    • Paper clips
    • Baggies/gloves (I’ve only needed it once for a test but was sure glad I had it!)
    • Box/bucket for devices
    • Place to put their personal items
    • Alcohol wipes/pads for areas (I sometimes go ahead and put these out at each station)
    • Mints or gum for the person with a tickle in their throat—check for allergies!

During Testing

  • If you are a proctor, be in your location!  The test administrators may never need you, but it will give them peace to see you there.  Walk by, smile, get a thumbs up that all is well.  If you have a book or a task you are doing, don’t forget to look up often.  Calling your name or walking to you may not be realistic if something comes up. 
  • Set up your work space as soon as you can and start your computer program if computer-based testing.  Have your attendance sheet out and take that upon arrival. In most cases, you can start as soon as everyone is there and ready, so have a plan in place to get them moving to their spot and putting things where they need to go.
  • Post your session stop/start times on the window.  This can be helpful for a proctor to have an idea when everyone will finish.  It can be done on a sticky note written on the back and stuck to the window or, if you are good at mirrored writing, just use a dry erase marker right on the window.  It will wipe right off when you are done and helps save a tree.
  • Be positive.  Welcome them, smile, tell a silly joke or story as you settle in (I like to tell of the year I had the nervous farter in my testing group). A friendly smile, a shoulder pat for the tired or stressed kiddo—these can go a long way and won’t disturb them during testing. 
  • Wear quiet and comfy shoes.  You are to be circulating, so it’s in your best interest to be comfortable.  I used to wear slipper socks that I kept in a drawer at work when I wore heels all the time.  I’ll never forget the year I hadn’t worn my cow-head slipper socks and was testing kids that hadn’t seen them.  I was a bit of a silly distraction during the first few minutes as I walked around, and they giggled and looked at me.  Oops.
  • Don’t look at their work on the screen.  Yes, I am sure you’ve heard this one. It can be tempting to glance out of boredom or curiosity, but for fidelity purposes, don’t give in.  Looking to see what question they are on is understandable, but paper-based can look at the answer sheet and computer-based can look at the question corner or at the administrator page to find out.
  • Don’t be afraid to redirect them.  Just have a silent cue or use your super quiet whisper voice. Some will get distracted, fidgety, or fall asleep, so you may need to pat their shoulder or their paper to redirect them.  You may have to do it several times.  Don’t get onto them, don’t get cross, just smile and get them working.  If they are a major distraction, follow your location’s protocol for how to contact them or handle it. 
  • Keep your cool, even if things go wrong.  Don’t make a big deal about it and minimize the distraction. I remember the year the bells didn’t get turned off—I said oops and laughed and kept circulating, so the kids went right back to their work.  Another year, we had a fire alarm go off.  Following protocol for real emergencies should be covered in training, but your hallway proctor is there for everything else.  And nothing can beat good judgement.
  • Paperwork.  There are several forms to fill out—seating charts, attendance, accommodations used, test codes filled in.  Much of this can be done on a clipboard (or your test book!) as you are walking around.  
  • Filling the mental void.  You’ve probably seen the social media posts—singing songs in your head, counting tiles, planning a vacation or a lesson in your mind, stretching or small workout maneuvers—there are some things you can do without being a distraction.  I also like to think about my students as people.  I will think of a memory from the year for each student in turn so that I have it ready for my end of year cards or yearbook signings.  Lifting them up in positive thought or prayer silently can also be a way to fill your time.

After Testing

  • Collect everything first!  You want to get controlled testing items out of their hands as quickly as possible.  You can do this by walking around and collecting things one at a time or have them make you an organized stack and sort it at your table.  Once those are collected, you can have your helper/fidgety kids quietly collect other items like pencils or name tents.
  • Organize/sort.  Most testing coordinators will have given you a list of the order to put your materials in.  They will also want your materials alphabetized.  Do this!!!  Remember the adage many hands make light work?  This is especially true when they must check for today’s testing materials and prep for tomorrow’s sessions.  Help them out and sort it all and clip it together for them.  It also makes sign over go faster when you return it and you can get to the bathroom faster!

With school districts all over the country testing at different times, I realize that some of you won’t be able to use very much of this until next year, while some of you will be able to use them right away. No matter what, I hope that some of these tips will help you if you are new to the testing game.  If you’ve been at this awhile, maybe these will make you feel more confident that you are doing a great job or can give you fresh ideas!  The biggest thing is to make sure that you are paying attention to all the little details, communicating with your testing team before and after, and thinking ahead and, while trying to keep things light, remember to take it seriously and stay focused.  The worst case scenario is that your job can be affected if you mess up or a student’s future could be impacted, and none of us in education want either of those outcomes.  Happy testing!

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