How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

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TEST DAY is rapidly approaching. Your to-do list is a mile long, you’re feeling pressure from admin about getting your scores up, the kids are getting snippy with each other, you’re tutoring in and out of school, and don’t forget the daunting amount of parent contacts you need to make. Don’t even get me started on how much you are probably questioning and cursing the testing requirements. No wonder you just want to lay down on the floor in the middle of the hallway after school. Its exhausting. March Madness isn’t just a term for basketball; its what teachers go through every year during testing season.

Don’t get discouraged. You don’t have to be super woman, but you also don’t have to feel like the world is crashing down on you. Know that you are not alone. I don’t know a single teacher in a testing grade that doesn’t feel overwhelmed around testing season. We are in this together and we will get through it together.

I’ll be sharing a series of 5 posts all about test prep this week. We’ll discuss strategies to keep both you and your kids sane and share some activities to make review a little more fun. Be sure to click “follow” or enter your email in the sidebar to stay tuned and get fun test prep activities and ideas! First up: Getting Organized.

Getting Organized for the Test

When your information – and sometimes even your desk – is clear, so is your head. Organization empowers us to think through the data and our to-do lists calmly and confidently. So clear off that desk and set yourself up with a tidy work space that doesn’t make your head spin. We’ve got some work to do.

Get a Handle on Your Student Data

You’ve undoubtedly had some sort of benchmark by this point in the year, and you’ve probably talked about that data with your admin until you were blue in the face. You might even be a little annoyed at the thought of looking at it again. I’m sure you’ve already created an instructional plan for test prep review based on how your students scored overall on each standard. You already know what needs reviewing and what is going exceedingly well. I’m not going to focus on that and feel your eyes glaze over through the computer screen. Instead, I want to focus on looking at each individual student in your class and ensure that we meet their specific needs.

Here are some things I like to look for and think about:

  • Which students scored well below or above your expectations? Why do you think that happened? 
  • Has the student been brought to RtI? Do you need to schedule a follow up?
  • What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Would a student benefit from certain accommodations?
  • Does the student need tutoring or extra small group instruction?

I like to keep a student data sheet for each student that contains every bit of information about him/her that I collect throughout the year. I find that it’s helpful for parent contacts, and honestly, just to make sure I don’t let one “fall through the cracks.” Here is a free copy of the student data sheet I use if you’re interested. However you choose to store your data, keep it organized and easily accessible.

Student Data Sheet

The hard part is over. The rest is a breeze once you have your data organized.

Get Those Parent Contacts Over With!

After looking at your student data, determine which parents you need to call and prioritize. I always start by scheduling face to face conferences with parents of students who were unsuccessful on the benchmark. Then I work my way up. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t have time for face to face conferences for every parent this time of year. If you’re one of those lucky teachers that has a full or half day out of the classroom built in for this purpose – kudos to you! My limited time requires me to determine which parents just need a phone call, or sometimes, not even that.

Keep the conversation positive. I don’t mean hide the student’s shortcomings, but it’s helpful to focus on the plan for moving forward and helping the student succeed.

Get Accommodations and Groupings Set

This is the point in the year when you need to double check that all necessary accommodations are documented and set for testing. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE ON THIS! You really don’t want to find yourself in a jam on this one a few weeks away from the test – or worse, on test day.

If you are given the ability to decide which students test in your classroom vs. your partner teacher’s classroom, start thinking about it now. I usually keep the students who struggle either academically or emotionally with me. I’ve always had strong partner teachers that I respect and trust; it’s not about that. I feel like it just gives them a little comfort and support to be with the teacher that prepared them for that test on test day.

If you have students who receive small group administration as a part of their accommodations, you will want to share information about your students with whoever oversees creating those groups. Is your student easily distracted? Does he or she tend to take a lot longer or work a lot faster than the other students that are being pulled out?

Take Note of Their Testing Behaviors

Observing your students’ testing behaviors during in class assessments can help you put an end to some bad habits and helps tremendously with creating a seating arrangement for test day that will maximize their performance. You may want to try out different environments for students who are prone to falling asleep during tests such as close to or far from the air conditioning unit. Who gets easily distracted? You don’t want themdesks sitting near the door. Is there anyone that will need to take frequent breaks? They belong by the door. You’ve undoubtedly worked hard all year at getting to know your students and creating responsive seating charts and groups. Keep this know-how in mind when creating your seating chart for test day as well.

Getting all of this organized ahead of time keeps you from feeling unraveled closer to the test. It’s a lot to do, but take it bit by bit and mark it off the to-do list. Trust me, “future you” will be so grateful you did it! Then you can focus on the fun stuff!

Don’t forget to click “follow” or enter your email in the sidebar to stay tuned and get fun test prep activities and ideas!

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

TEST Prep Series

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