STAAR & State Assessment Testing

My Thoughts On State Testing (and my live school program)

Several years ago I had the opportunity to assist in the development of public school assembly curriculum for use in rural and urban Cambodian schools. Over what was to become several trips overseas to work with the Non-Government Organization (NGO) (www.rdic.org) I also had the opportunity to speak with people who worked for the World Health Organization (WHO). During this time there was a lot of discussion about educational standards in third world countries and how that related to health of children.

One thing stuck in my memory. Did you know that the World Health Organization found that one of the single most helpful things for improving education in third world countries was to provide latrines? That’s right. Given an otherwise equal learning environment, students at schools with toilets tested significantly higher than schools without. Of course there are a myriad of reasons why that is the case but the bottom line is that physical health is directly related to mental health.

In order for our students to do well during TAKS testing time they must first be healthy, alert, rested, and energetic. Parents and educators must provide environments where students have access to plenty of hours of sleep the night beforehand, healthy, diverse breakfasts and low sugar lunches. This cannot be overstressed. Unhealthy, tired children simply cannot be expected to test well. It should probably be noted that parents of children who are medicated should take extra steps to make sure prescribed medicine is taken properly and on time.

Second, our young people cannot be anxious. Parents and administrators must support our teachers as they carefully toe the line between encouraging the students to do their best while not causing undue stress. Our goal is to have kids that are driven to do well, but not to the extent at which they experience performance anxiety. We want students who are confident in themselves and not worried about failure. Teachers, administrators and parents must be on the same page when it comes to encouraging our young people and making sure they aren’t stressed out. Taking a test can be as stressful to a young person as trying to finance a first home can be for us adults.

Now let’s be candid. In my TAKS themed school assemblies I am upfront about my own test experiences. Most of us have taken tests in school we just didn’t want to take. What negative things did we do?

1. Answered randomly – just to get the test over with
2. Gave up – made up answers just to pass the time
3. Became overwhelmed – and never completed the test

Young people, if anything, are keenly aware of honesty. Teachers need to be honest and open up to the truth of testing. We DO get overwhelmed. We have all been tempted to blow off hard work. Parents should be frank about their own experience as well. Be honest about your own failures and successes. It will be more effective than parroting random encouraging phrases to the children. When a test does NOT affect your grade, it’s hard to take it serious when the test gets difficult. Explain the importance of the test and offer real alternatives to the above temptations.

1. If you are tempted to answer randomly, remember that it will not be a secret. Those who check the tests will know you have randomly answered.

2. Don’t give up. You will have to sit quietly no matter what. Why not use the time to test yourself? Nobody wants to fail, but in this test you are not competing against anyone. The only way you can fail is to stop trying.

3. If a particular problem is giving you trouble, don’t over-think it. Go ahead and come back to it later if you find yourself spending too much time on it. Finishing the test is also important.

Ask your students questions. A two way line of communication and an environment where students feel comfortable expressing concerns will go a long way to helping kids feel “ready” for the test.

Finally, enjoy the school assembly. Sometimes during a stressful experience just having a laugh and enjoying life can be medicine well taken. Students and teachers both should be encouraged to relax and enjoy the show.