Children everywhere are in the midst of taking standardized tests to measure academic progress. We refer to this as "high stakes testing" because so much is riding on their outcome. Children have to pass a certain number of them before they are allowed to graduate and schools must prove their students are learning or they risk losing their accreditation. As a result, these tests create a great deal of anxiety. For students who are struggling in school, this anxiety can affect their performance on the tests.
Headaches, stomach-aches, or begging to stay home from school, may be signs that your child is suffering from test anxiety. In worst cases, students may show signs of depression. (For more on this topic, please see Coping With School Stress at WebMD.com. See Help Your Child Reduce Test Stress for another great article.
How can you help your child do well on these tests?
Children need to be familiar with the format of the tests and have experience answering questions in that format. Many states publish earlier versions of the tests and answer keys so children can practice taking similar tests ahead of time.
Children should learn from their teacher how the tests will be administered, how long they will have to finish, and what they need to have with them when they take the tests. Help your child gather all the materials he will need the night before the tests and place them where they will remember to take them to school the next morning.
Children should practice reading and following the directions they are likely to see on the tests. The released tests will be similar in nature and when they practice them, they should be encouraged to read and discuss the directions to make sure they understand them.
If your child has specific test taking strategies that work well for him, she should use the same strategies on these tests. For example, some benefit from skimming through the test to see the format of the whole test. For others, this may produce anxiety, and they should not do it. Some children need to cover up all except for the one question they are working on, because knowing there are so many more questions to answer produces anxiety.
Children should get plenty of rest the night before the tests and eat a good breakfast that morning. If a child is fighting to stay awake or her stomach is growling, she may not do her best on the tests.
It is important to stay relaxed. Too much emotion can block memory. You can practice deep breathing with your child to show them how to calm down.
My grandson, Avery, eight years old at the time, said, "I need to make a 400 out of 500 on my OAA." My daughter, a school psychologist remarked, "What a terrible goal for him to worry himself with." Parents should encourage their children to do their best, but they also need to assure them that no matter how well they do on the tests, they will still love them and be proud of them.