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How teachers can help students succeed in state assessments
FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2014 18:07 PM

Students across America experience frustration and anxiety every year when testing season approaches, and, undoubtedly, so do some of their teachers. State education departments and school district officials have used these yearly assessments to gauge student progress and teacher efficiency in the past, but because the success of the controversial Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become a political issue, jobs, reputations and public school funding are now on the line.

Today, dedicated teachers often split their time between covering potential exam material and educating their students on other subjects that also matter. To help instructors prepare their students for state-mandated exams, researchers sought to identify certain teaching techniques educators should use prior to the exam that significantly improve student performance on these tests. According to a 2001 study conducted by Mississippi State University researcher Mary Mathai Chittooran and her colleagues, students' attitudes toward taking state-mandated tests significantly improve after completing adequate and appropriate test preparation, and this preparation resulted in higher exam scores. Dr. Scott Norton, professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and his associates also conducted a study in 1996 and discovered that a strong correlation exists between test preparation and improved academic performance. Here are four ways teachers can prepare their students for yearly exams:

1. Provide a wide variety of exam questions
Teachers can prepare their students for test day by introducing them to different sample questions. Many educational websites have a large number of sample tasks from different states. Educators can use these samples to make sure their students will not be surprised by an unfamiliar format, style or wording of a question. Consider collecting samples from states in every region. For example, you can find a number of resources from Texas's education department, including released tests, answer keys and scoring guides. Many states like Florida, New York, California and Washington's education departments can also provide you with useful information. 

2. Emphasize comprehensive instruction
Although focusing instruction solely on portions of concepts known to be on the exam could potentially improve scores, it actually leaves students at a disadvantage. Instead, consider developing a comprehensive lesson plan that includes the tested material. Building a strong foundation of knowledge will help students create associations and relationships between seemingly unrelated concepts. These associations tend to help students recall information even in stressful test environments. If a student can demonstrate knowledge of fundamental concepts and problem-solving skills, scoring well on the exam should not be an issue.

3. Integrate time management skill building early in the year
Poor time management can negatively affect students' performance during the exam, and every student, especially those who have special needs, should know how to navigate through an exam - whatever the format or wording may be - by the time test season comes around. According to a 1992 study conducted by researcher Jo Jakupcak, students who had teachers regularly integrate time management skill building into class time performed well on exams. One way educators can help students develop their time management skills for a state assessment is by giving a few timed tests throughout the year. Teachers can also go over daily, weekly and monthly reviews. Daily reviews involve students sharing short summaries of lecture notes prior to class, weekly ones dedicate an hour to reviewing assigned readings, and monthly reviews should have students participate in test preparation a week before the exam.

4. Cultivate student confidence
Building confidence is one of the most overlooked aspects of test preparation. Creating a positive attitude toward the state-mandated exams starts the confidence-building process. It might be challenging, but it still plays a significant role in student achievement. Teachers can help their students develop a positive attitude about the tests by regularly setting challenging (but realistic) goals, creating associations between what is learned and how those concepts apply to personal experiences, and by giving guided instruction in such a way that the student arrives at the right answer through their own competence.