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Preparing for High Stakes State Testing

By Nancy Jang on March 10, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2

In California, we do our state testing in May, but we begin reviewing and planning for it now. Second grade is the youngest grade to take state tests in California, and we take it very seriously. I hope that you will find some helpful testing tips for students and teachers in this post.



Photo Credit: Blueberries/iStockphoto


DSC00423In the district where I teach, there is a huge push for kids to do well on state tests. At my school, we only have kindergarten through 2nd grade, but we also have six or seven classes at those grade levels and about five hundred students. The pressure is especially high since we will only test one grade level, and that score is directly reflected in the API score that's published in the newspaper. So I've given testing quite a bit of thought. Here are some tips to help you get you and your kids ready for your state tests.


Before the Test

1. Testing PositionsDSC00420

During the state test, we are required to move students to discourage cheating. So early in the year, I introduce "Testing Positions." Whenever we have a math test, spelling test, or other assessment, we go to Testing Positions. The places change every month when we change desk formations and jobs, but the kids really stay focused in Testing Positions.

I have about ten areas in the classroom that do not have a person next to them, so every other student in the normal desk formations has a special testing area to go to. These areas face the wall, my horseshoe table, my volunteer worker's desk, or my teacher's desk. I have whoever's left just pull their desk forward or back from the group. This way every student has space on either side of them. Each student also gets a privacy shield to protect their answers from prying eyes.



DSC00443 2. Listening Practice with Review Quizzes

The state test is filled with tons of questions, especially in the math section, where the students are required to take notes on scratch paper and work out the problem outside of the test booklet before bubbling in the answer on the test booklet. Young kids struggle with using a separate paper and with picking out the important information while listening without visual clues.

When I review for a math exam, we create scratch paper together and learn to organize our listening notes. I give them each a standard piece of copy paper and ask them to fold it two times down and two times across. This creates a paper with sixteen boxes on it. We number every box, and then they listen carefully as I read the quiz questions. They  have to write down the important information and work out the problems. The first few times I did this, I guided them through what was important to write down and how to create the problems. Now, it's just a part of our review routine.

3. Spiral Reviews

Top_logo Even though state testing is about six weeks away, I begin planning some review time into my day. I love using Mountain Math/Language as part of my review. I have the old bulletin board kits up, but their review materials are now available as small center boards, workbooks, and even digitally, as interactive whiteboard lessons. A review has about 40 cards in every problem, so if you use it once a week, it will last 40 weeks. Some teachers use this program all year, but I prefer to use it after I have taught all the concepts and for review purposes during the second semester.


4. Books That Talk About Testing

Amazon.com Widgets

Testing Miss Malarkey

The week before the state test, I read a great book, Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler, which follows the students in Miss Malarkey's class as they get ready for THE TEST. It's a fun look at test preparation from the kids' point of view. We talk about the similarities between what we are doing and what the kids in the book are going through. We also talk about the idea of just doing your best: I explain that the test is not going to effect their report cards, but is going to reflect upon the teachers and the school. The other books pictured above are also about testing. There is a book coming out in July 2011 called The Big Test by Julie Danneberg that I am looking forward to adding to my collection. Julie Danneberg wrote First Day Jitters (a must for every teacher!), Last Day Blues, and First Grade Letters.

5. Test-Taking Tools, Rulers, and Number Lines

DSC00424 DSC00426

Practice with the tools that you will be allowed to use during the test and practice doing without tools that you may have had all year. During the test, we are required to cover all of our bulletin boards, number lines, alphabet strips, and anything else that could help a child during the test. When I was a new teacher, I had name tags that had a number line, an alphabet, and a hundreds chart on it. The kids loved them, but when the test came and they weren't able to use them, they were very frustrated. Now, I have my kids learn to draw a number line on their scratch paper; when we have reviews, they automatically generate a number line next to their name. When the test comes, they already know what to do. I have also taught them to use the ruler they get with the test as a number line.

During our measurement unit, the kids have a lot pf practice with rulers, but all rulers are not created equal. As part of our test prep, we look at the starting points, where the zero is (if it has a zero), and where to begin measuring with it. During our spiral review, we use a ruler that is very similar to the one they will get for testing.




During the Test

Testing signThe morning of the test, make sure you have at least two sharpened number two pencils and an eraser for each child, a sign outside your door that says "Shhh. We are testing!" and a test for each child. Ask if you can look at the Directions for Administration for the section that you are doing that day. 

Before you hand out the test, have your children take a few deep breaths. Emphasize that you want them to try their best. Remind them of their choices for when they are done. (In my class it's "Read or rest after a test.") If they break their pencil, they can hold their pencil up silently and you can exchange it for them. If they are done with a section, I ask them to stay in their seats reading or resting with their pencil's point sticking out of their closed booklet. Then I come by and check to see that they answered every question before collecting their test.


Special note: When you are checking a student's booklet, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. If you do, you will notice that some of the answers are wrong and that some of the questions are poorly written and it will cause you stress! :) Trust me on this.

After the Test

DSC00445 After the whole class has completed the test each day, and the tests have been collected and delivered to the office, give the kids some downtime. Play a game, go out to P.E., or do an art project or something else fun. They deserve it. It's tough for young kids to maintain that kind of focus for an extended period of time!

I hope that you found some good tips for preparing your class for state testing. What  other tips do you have to share?

Leave a comment on this blog post and win some cool prizes for your classroom! I am giving away a 2GB flash drive, a package of five brand new books from Scholastic for your classroom library, 36 sharpened number two pencils,  and a test prep book for 2nd grade. Limit one comment per person. Comments must be submitted by Monday, March 14, 2011.


Happy reviewing,


Comments (53)

Chandra, Thanks for your comment. I hope that you'll be able to implement some of these ideas for next year!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Thank you for these fabulous tips. It's a little too late in the game to implement your math scratch paper strategy (we test next week and are currently on spring break), but I will keep it in mind for next year's classroom. I happen to have the Testing Miss Malarkey book in my library, so I plan to read it the day we get back from break.

Thank you for these helpful tips!

Chandra Miss Lockett

Laura, Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and for your ideas. Good luck to you on testing too!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Great ideas, especially the list of books. Another idea is sharpen pens on both ends, so they don't use the pencil eraser. We love the magic rub erasers. Also, give a a little treat each day from the test busters. It could be a roll of smarties to recharge brain cells. Good Luck!

Linda, Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. I love using my testing positions all year long and it really helps the kids lower their fear of testing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

These are great tips. I liked the testing position tip. When I was a classroom teacher, I used that from the beginning of the year to the end. It was just so natural. Anytime you set up a routine like that, it makes state testing not as different and a little less anxiety.

Kathy, Thanks so much for your comment. The kids work so hard during testing, it's nice for them to have a bit of fun and relax!

Best Wishes, Nancy

Well I love this little incentive program you are devising here to get suggestions to your great post. Congrats! I think that you make a great point about balancing the stressful aspects of testing along with the stress breakers...like the books following the tests. I always promised my kids popsicles under a tree reading a book--nothing more peaceful that a popsicle! Thanks Nancy--terrific post!

Sandy, Thanks for leaving a comment. I also have a hard time when they get something wrong, especially when I know that they learned it and are just making a silly mistake. It is WAY better for me NOT to look at the actual questions and their specific answers! :)

You are entered into my drawing. Good luck on your testing! Nancy

Kayla, I'm glad that you found my post helpful! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm entering you into my raffle.

Happy Testing, Nancy

Thanks so much Nancy for your great posts every week. This is my first year with my students taking "The Test", and I'm really nervous. It is always hard for me when one of my students has an answer wrong, so I'm going to take your advice and try to not look at the actual answers.

I loved this information! These tips were very helpful - I loved the idea of reading a book to prepare them for the test!

Mary Ellen, I'm glad that you found my post interesting. Thank you! Good luck with your testing and remember to take a deep breathe!

You are entered in to my drawing. Happy Testing, Nancy


Thanks for all of the great information. I was especially interested in this week's blog because my 2nd graders take our standardized test beginning on Monday!

We have been practicing with sample test questions, but I'm going to find time to squeeze in Testing Miss Malarkey. I really enjoy that book, but hadn't thought about reading it in preparation for the test.

Mary Ellen

M. Collins, I love that book Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and I agree with you! I feel that out of all the books, that is the one that means the most. Learn to be a good thinker!

You are entered into my drawing. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Gail, It's so neat that your staff really gets into a skit that helps the students review good test taking skills! Thanks for sharing.

You are entered into my drawing. Happy Teaching, Nancy

Allison, Thanks for your comment. My kids love playing that game too. We are always trying to beat our previous times. You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Rebecca, Thanks for your comment. I love the idea about using the time when you are walking from one place to another to review on the fly. I'm gonna try this out woth my kiddos next week. Thanks for sharing. You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Reviewing, Nancy

I too read Hooray for Diffendoofer Day to my classroom. We talk about how a teacher can't teach you everything, but they can teach you to become a thinker and that is what we want them to do. Do their best thinking as they take the test.

Our teachers have to "de-stress" a bit before the test, so we have fun preparing a "Deal or No Deal" skit to present to our students. Students answer questions about test taking strategies which allow them to open the cases.

We also have a big bulletin board in the hallway. Teachers write positive testing comments and strategies on the board with bright markers.

We make up a game of "I Have, Who Has" to review skills and vocabulary that will be on "the test". Example: Who has: A noun is .. ." I have "a person, place, or thing. Who has: An antonym for "ancient" is . . ."

When we covered our bulletin boards the night before our test the teachers wrote encouraging words on the butcher paper. The positive signs were very encouraging to the students. When walking in line or waiting in line I have flashcards made to quiz my students on items that will be tested like types of angles, shapes, etc... The students now beg me to ask them to identify the shape.

Emmalyn, Thanks for your comment. We all struggle at one time or another to make sure are kids are paying attention. I hope that your adjustment to the U.S. is a smooth one. I appreciate your kind words and I hope that you glean some good ideas from the posts! You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Camille, Thanks for your comment! I love that you are doing art and PE activities after testing to help relax the kids. You are entered into my drawing. Thank you for sharing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Chelsea, Thanks for your tip! Easing the tension with a laugh is a great idea. You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Testing, Nancy

Becky, Thanks for your comment! Here are some teacher tips. :) During the week of testing, teach some of the really fun things that you never get a chance to do anymore, get a massage, a manicure or a pedicure or all three, read a good book or watch a movie when you get home (Don't think about grading, testing or how your students are doing on the test!), have your favorite beverage, and most importantly BREATHE! You are entered into my drawing.

Happy De-stressing, Nancy

Sharon, I love using the scrap paper for quizzes and review. I hope that it works for you! It's added benefit is that you don't have to photocopy anything, and it doesn't have to be fancy. When kids are done and quietly waiting for the next question, I let them pick a square in the last row to draw a mini picture in one of the boxes. You are entered into my drawing!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Jan, Great tip. I agree with you! Thanks for sharing. You are entered into my drawing!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Inger, I love the positive reinforcement! I'm sure that a little note like that really makes their day. You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

These are wonderful tips, and you don't know how thankful I am. As a new teacher here in the US, I am still adjusting. And I am having a hard time making my students pay attention to me. I am looking forward to reading your next article. Thank you so much!

Amy, Great ideas! Thanks for your comment. You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Testing, Nancy

Lori, Thanks for your comment. That is a great suggestion! We try and go over released questions in a game type format to make it more fun.

You are entered into my drawing. Happy Testing, Nancy

Rhonda, Thanks for your comment. I do that too. You are entered into my drawing!

Happy Testing, Nancy

Jennifer, Great tip! I send home a letter the week before testing telling parents make sure that kids get a good healthy breakfast and plenty of sleep that week. I also remind them to be on time!! You are entered into my drawing!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Amanda, I hope that some of these ideas will help your kids this year and next year. Thanks for your comment. You are entered into my drawing!

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Cindy, Thanks for your comment! Teaching them how to make a number line has been a great tool for my kids. Then they don't feel so deprived and they have a tool that they are actually allowed to use. I hope it works well for you! You are entered into my drawing.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

M. Da Silva, Thanks for your comment. We are only allowed to look at the test during the testing period with the students and only with a proctor present in the classroom. We are supposed to check that they filled in every question. I actually wish that I didn't have to look at it. :D It would save me some stress!

You are entered into my drawing. Thanks, Nancy

ELA Teacher, Thanks for your comment. Implementing these routines has helped my kiddos A TON. It's was tough because my kids were having a hard time with things that were not what they were being tested on, but REALLY impacted their scores!

You are entered into my drawing. Happy Test Prepping, Nancy

In past years, I know that ensuring a breakfast for every child helped the class focus on their task, not when we might be having snack if the test ran a bit long. It's definitely worth asking parent volunteers or PTA to help every child get a filling, protein-packed breakfast.

I send notes home the week before testing and remind parents to make sure their child goes to be on time or early and has a good breakfast.

I also like to prepare my students ahead of time. No sense in them doing less than their best because they're uncomfortable. We do practice sessions with released items in practice test form, but in real test time amounts. I post the time when we start and when we finish. Then, we talk about how that time feels. They feel very confident when they know how long they have to sit silently and focus.

I make sure to do a little stretching and brain gym before we begin to help the kids get focused. I also take class breaks every 45 min to hour. Finally, since it's hard to sit for so long my kids know that at any time they can stand up behind their desk and stretch or take a brain break.

I have the students' parents write them a personal note along the lines of "You can do it!" and "I am very proud of all you've learned to do!" on star shaped stationery. The kids can post the note on the front of their privacy shield every day as a motivator to do their best and to know that a lot of people are on their 'team'.

Every student needs to hear that the teacher has confidence in him or her. The personal voice of encouragement can be the added boost for the student to do his or her best. Sometimes I leave a note on the student's desk; sometimes I pull the student aside to whisper the encouragement.

I love your idea for folding paper and practicing using scrap paper. I'm going to give that a try this year.

Thank you for the helpful tips. Every bit helps this time of year. You should include more tips to help teacher stress during testing times!

On testing days, I know my students are nervous/anxious and the stress can effect their performance on the test. So, I wear goofy glasses on test days (either the really huge ones or the disguise glasses with a nose and mustache attached). When I walk out to the playground to pick up my class in the morning, they get all giddy and laugh at me. It relieves the stress, and shows the students that we don't always have to be so serious all the time. You could also try the fake gold teeth or the fake Billy Bob teeth too. All of these things can be picked up at the dollar store or the party supply store.

I teach 7/8 language Arts and Social Studies and I will be monitoring the STAR tests for the 7th grade this year. I give out gum before each test, sugarless of course, even though I don't allow gum during the regular school day. I find that it helps the kids concentrate and they appreciate it. We also do activities between tests like PE, and spend the afternoon doing Art projects. At the end of the week we have an Art show that is judged by the High School art teacher,

These are great ones to me, as a student teacher, to keep in mind for (hopefully) next year. I know we are giving standardized tests at my school next week and, we have already set aside time to go outside each afternoon, for students can make noise and get some energy off.

These are great ideas for destressing and making test-taking more approachable for kids. Love the books! There is a picture book for everything! And I will certainly use the idea for having the kids generate their own number line.

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