Anyone who’s attended public school in the last half-century knows the standardized testing drill. You sit in a hushed classroom, sharpened No. 2 pencils at the ready, staring at the ominous-looking rows of empty circles on the paper in front of you as the clock ticks off the remaining minutes. Kids know just how much weight standardized tests carry. The pressure to perform is so intense, it can make them choke and do poorly.
With the introduction of Common Core standards and the accompanying PARCC tests, students are under even more testing stress these days. In response, many parents have banded together against standardized tests, fueling a growing opt-out movement. Parents who stand in opposition say high-stakes tests don’t accurately reflect kids’ academic abilities, force teachers to “teach to the test,” and put way too much pressure on children. Many educators agree.
“More and more Americans understand that over testing is taking a toll on our students and on what and how we teach,” said National Education Association President Lily E. Garcia. “Students and teachers continue to lose more and more class time to testing and test preparation, and that time should be spent teaching and learning a rich, engaging curriculum.”
For the time being, standardized tests are staying put in our educational system. Though you might not be able to help your kids avoid them, you can make the experience less stressful. Here are a few tips.
No one knows your child’s educational strengths and weaknesses as well as you do. Offer help in subject areas where you know she’s struggling. If you don’t feel confident about your own skills in that subject, hire a tutor, buy a book, or sign your child up for an online study course.
Teach your children how to combat stress with relaxation techniques. Deep breathing is one of the simplest ways for kids to relax, and they can do it anywhere — at home, or in the classroom right before a test. They can take deep relaxation to the next level by meditating — sitting quietly with their eyes closed and focusing their mind while repeating a word or sound. Another potent stress reducer is something your kids should already be doing every day — exercising. Tossing the football with a friend or swimming a few laps not only relieves anxiety but also can sharpen kids’ ability to focus in school and improve their mental function.
Kids will perform at their best on tests if they’re well-rested and well-fed. Establish a bedtime routine that ensures your child gets the 9 to 11 hours of sleep she needs nightly. Don’t serve sodas, chocolate, and other caffeinated foods and drinks too close to bedtime. In the morning, fuel up your child with a hearty breakfast. Foods that are high in protein and fiber help kids focus and prevent the distraction of a grumbling belly.
Although you want your child to do well on tests, you don’t want him to beat himself up over the results. Let him know these tests don’t fully represent him intellectually or academically. Doing poorly on a standardized test doesn’t mean he’s stupid or incapable of succeeding. The hard work he puts in every day in class counts, too.
After the test, relieve pent-up stress by doing something your child enjoys. See a movie together, get ice cream, or go bowling as a family. A fun excursion will take your child’s mind off the test and its results, and help him return to school the next day mentally refreshed.
August 28, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN