A classroom teacher’s guide to reducing test anxiety (and testing!)

A 10-year elementary school teaching veteran offers tips on how to focus students on the learning, not the assessments

As educators, sometimes it seems like all we ever do is jump from preparing our students for one assessment to another. Reams have been written about the corrosive influence of pervasive testing in education, but is there anything we can do as classroom teachers to avoid over-testing our students?

It turns out there is! We may not be able to avoid district- and state-mandated assessments, and other tests do have their place—testing is, after all, a useful way to measure some kinds of student progress—but there are a few things we can do to minimize testing and reduce the anxiety and other negative consequences of testing.

Our district and state assessments are a great measure of students’ growth, but they are only one measure. I rely greatly on observation and students’ daily work. I have often had students come to school after a rough morning at home or when they’re ill, and the results of their tests under such circumstances don’t match with what I’ve seen in class. We don’t have cookie-cutter kids, and I most definitely don’t expect cookie-cutter results.

Below are a few ways I try to avoid over-testing and help students manage the testing that is unavoidable.

Look ahead
At the beginning of the year, when we have the opportunity to assess students through observation and district benchmark assessments, I determine the areas of greatest need and work with our interventionist, coaches, and my other grade-level teachers to determine how best to meet the needs of my struggling students.

Monitor progress
We follow our state and district testing cycle, but in our grade-level teams we work closely to determine how we will test our kids on curriculum material. We use the Curriculum Learning Institute’s (CLI) Model to determine how and when we will assess our students on our adopted curriculum materials. We also use the CLI Model to create subject pacing guides used by each grade-level team.

This has been positive because we have assessments that are created by grade-level teams and adopted by our district. As teachers, we have the flexibility to progress-monitor students as needed. Our struggling students are on a schedule to be progress-monitored for growth so we can determine if they need a new intervention.

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