Testing Motivation: Supporting Students Before and After High-Stakes Tests

Students ThinkingThe emphasis on high-stakes testing has become a reality in the K-12 learning environment since the passing of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the subsequent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Students are required to take standardized tests in specific areas and subjects. Schools receive accountability reports every school year relating to those test results that often lead to strategic changes in budget, personnel, curriculum, instruction, and programs.

However, high-stakes testing can cause stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a survey that showed teen-reported stress levels higher than adult-reported stress levels. It is crucial for teachers to employ motivational and support tactics to help students overcome test anxiety and achieve success.

Combining standards-aligned, engaging, and rigorous instruction with regular practice tests and benchmarks can help students and teachers work together to tackle the effect of any learning disruptions, develop and practice test-taking strategies, and manage test anxiety and stress.

It is equally as important to motivate, encourage, and celebrate students both before and after testing.

Motivating Students Before Testing:

  • Encourage students to get plenty of sleep before test day, including the weekend preceding the test.
  • Share stress management techniques to help students relax, decompress, and stay focused in the days leading up to testing.
  • Define the test reality by talking to and guiding students through what really is at stake with each test.
  • Identify and communicate high yet realistic (and differentiated!) expectations.
  • Empower students to set their own short-term goals and celebrate every achievement.
  • Build a culture of success and celebration around testing, rather than a culture of fear.
  • Focus on engaging students in developing and understanding the value of life-ready skills, in school, and in life.
  • Teach students this mantra: “For success, attitude is as important as ability.”
  • Provide great Tier I instruction and appropriate and timely interventions.
  • Work strategically and intentionally throughout the school year on building self-esteem, confidence, and personal and school pride.
  • Make time to regularly share inspirational messages, videos, and stories with students.

TeachStudent High-five-1Motivating Students After Testing:

  • Share each student's testing results with them before helping them celebrate their accomplishments and identify areas needing improvement and support.
  • Don’t just focus on pass/fail! Focus on students’ strengths and goal-setting to improve challenging areas.
  • Create a recognition system to celebrate every success, big and small.
  • Encourage students who are not "there" yet to understand and embrace The Power of Yet.
  • Review assessment results and develop a data-informed plan for your classroom and instruction moving forward.
  • Continue building students’ self-esteem, test-taking strategies, and academic knowledge.
  • Provide high-quality, standards-aligned, engaging, and rigorous instruction every day and every period.

Remember that teachers are the best resource to help students accomplish their goals and experience success!  For more information on motivating students, read this helpful resource from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.


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