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The Stress of Testing: How to Keep Your Cool and Calm Your Students

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Mike Maiello is an ESL teacher at Fremont Elementary School in Carson City, Nevada and a member of Ellevation’s 2015 Dream Team.

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not talking about the holidays or spring break. Whether you’re administering new tests, implementing online assessments for the first time, or struggling to keep up with your classroom schedule, chances are you might be a little stressed right now. I know I am.  

My district just finished implementing ACCESS 2.0 and it was our first year using the online assessment. I should be excited, right? Our school district worked extremely hard to meet Title III requirements for EL proficiency gains, but we missed the mark on goals for exiting enough students. Especially at my school. During the testing process, many questions came to mind: Will my students be able to read everything on the screen and follow test directions? Do they realize they could exit our ESL program by doing really well on this test?  How does that reflect on my work? Is the testing schedule I spent hours on going to work? Am I doing my job?

These thoughts and questions keep me up at night during testing season. And, I realize it’s not healthy. Having survived 5 years of testing, I thought I would share some tips that seem to help.

Tips to Keep Your Cool

  • Pause for a minute. Haste makes waste, isn’t that what they say? Even if it feels like you don’t have time, it’s worth it to just stop and breathe. Studies show that you can increase happiness and productivity simply by just slowing down.
  • Plan ahead. Use our ELL Assessment Chart to document when tests are scheduled, what they’re for and how you plan to disseminate results with the appropriate stakeholders.
  • Get organized. Keep an ongoing to-do list and tidy up your workspace, because misplacing tasks or items will only complicate your current situation. Set your SMART goals (use this template) and keep them nearby.
  • Keep things in perspective. Remember that it’s only a test. When I’m extremely stressed, I find it helpful to remind myself that ACCESS 2.0 is not the sole indicator of how my students are doing in the classroom and in their journey towards full English proficiency.

Inevitably, your students are likely stressed as well. Many students have test anxiety, and most students would rather be in class learning with their peers.

Tips to Calm Your Students

  • Prepare them for the test. Preview and practice test formats, and teach grit strategies.
  • Fake it until you make it. Humans are wired to sense and mimic the emotions of other human beings. Try to slow down and stay calm - don’t let them see you sweat!
  • Communicate well. Let students know when they will be testing and what to expect. If students are pulled out of class randomly, they won’t have time to mentally prepare to tackle the language and content.
  • Share the vision. Help students see that a test is an opportunity to show what they know. Motivate them to be the best they can be and celebrate in a fun way at the end of the testing season.

How do you get through testing season? What tips or techniques help you or your students stay calm? Tweet at us (@ELLevationED) or respond in the comments below.