Picture this: You are in a conference room for a three-hour seminar. You are packed in side-by-side. It’s 80 degrees and sweaty. You aren’t allowed to talk to your friends. And for the entire time, you are required to pay close attention and really think about the information being presented. Oh…and there’s no water or snacks.
Not happening. After 20 minutes you’ll be ready to run out of the room screaming.
Well, I’ve been in elementary testing rooms that had all of those deficiencies, and the staff was indifferent to how this environment would affect student focus and test scores.
It’s crazy! No adult would put up with it. But the expectation is that our young students are going to just gut it out because it’s too hard to create a comfortable testing environment. Or, I guess the environment is testing them, but it’s testing their physical stamina and not their knowledge.
Not your kids, though! Let’s get into some details on what to watch out and prep for.
Teachers have to care
I know. Someone else is supposed to make all the testing preparations and you just show up. It’s not your fault if the room is too hot or too cold and there’s no water to drink. Technically that’s true. But whose test scores are going to suffer?
And whose students are going to spend three hours in misery? You want them to take their time, don’t you? Well, it helps if they aren’t rushing to escape discomfort.
So if you care about test performance – and the experience of your children – you are going to have to care about the testing environment.
I am regularly amazed at the lack of planning that goes into the temperature of elementary testing rooms. Spring weather is often warm and computers throw off lots of heat. I have proctored in rooms that were basically computerized sweat shops. Not all elementary schools have air-conditioning.
This comes about due to a lack of a dedicated testing room in many schools. Rooms for test administration are put together ad hoc, and the spaces selected are often not temperature controlled. But that is no excuse for not making an effort for the comfort of students!
Air conditioning can be critical for student success. It is simply miserable to take an hours-long test in a sweltering environment. Such an environment will degrade the test performance of all children as they strive to finish so they can escape the conditions; forget checking answers one last time – they will make a beeline for the exit.
Nobody would force SAT test takers to sit in a 90 degree room knowing how much is riding on their ability to think clearly and devote quality time to answering questions. But I have seen this exact scenario in many elementary schools, where the stakes are just as high. It’s simply not fair and the children and your scores will suffer.
So what can you do?
First, take control. Don’t show up the morning of the test with your class and hope for the best. Check out the room in advance, ideally while it is filled with the body heat of a classroom of kids. If the temperature is a distraction, ask to meet your principal to talk about options.
Some schools may balk at buying cheap window air conditioners (although they shouldn’t) but no one should dispute the need for fans.
If it is hot, make sure that bottled water is chilled. Have ice bags for each student (wet a sponge, pop it in a re-sealable bag and freeze it). Do what is necessary for the comfort of these hard working little people.
Elementary students love fresh pencils!
I have been in testing rooms where the kids were working with short, dull pencils with poor erasers. What’s more, these kids were getting up to sharpen their own pencils during the test – cutting into their own testing time and distracting other students.
Poor pencil practices are so easily avoidable that there’s no excuse for them.
First, get new pencils that are used for testing only. They should look different from the pencils that the kids normally use, and should be aligned with the testing theme if possible. Be sure they have eraser caps, not just the original eraser, so they can easily erase on their scratch papers.
Teachers, volunteers and aids sharpen pencils, not students. And the sharpening is all done in advance as part of test preparation. Two sharp pencils ready to go for each student and lots of extras. If a child needs a new pencil, you swap it out for them at their seat. No fuss, no muss.
Test administration often dictates the use of scratch paper. For example, it might say you can only use 8 ½ x 11 inch yellow lined paper and students are to receive two pieces at a time. Read your directions for administration and stick to it.
But, make sure you have plenty of paper. Just because it says two pieces at a time doesn’t mean that’s all a student is allowed.
Some grade levels are also required to have graph paper.
Snacks and Water
Snacks and water are critical for sustained student testing effort. Working and focusing their brains tires kids out (and teachers too). Their need for breaks (discussed in detail in a later chapter) are huge in order to reboot their brains and keep them working at top capacity.
Keep in mind, students are NOT eating and drinking while working on computers. At a designated time, determined by the teacher. Students will pause their test, move away from their computer – even to the floor – to take a break with water and a snack.
Snacks should be as health as possible to limit overeating and for the general principal of maintaining a healthy school environment. If possible, they should align with your testing theme, if you have one.
Examples of snacks; each is a carb and protein source rather than straight carb:
- Pretzels and string cheese
- Cut fruit and cheese sticks
- Cheese and crackers
I have been in buildings where snacks were purchased with the building budget from district nutrition services or purchased at a warehouse store. I have also purchased them for my own classroom. (My own money, but totally worth it.)
I have also seen snacks as a parent involvement opportunity. A teacher sends home a letter asking parents to send a treat bag to school just for testing days for their student. Parents have a list of items that can go in the bag to include a note from the parent and snack guidelines. If a parent doesn’t have the resources to send a treat bag, the teacher provides one for that student.
Of course the teacher checks each bag to ensure it meets specifications for testing.
Water is the only choice for liquid refreshment. Kids don’t need more sugar, and buildings don’t need the expense of juice. Water bottles can be decorated with custom labels fairly easily (more about that when I discuss themes).
Gum is never allowed in school! Which is why it’s a perfect motivation booster to allow it during testing – with tight control.
Gum is handed out in the testing room to those students who want it, and it can be “disposed of” only by sticking it to a gum chart on the wall. The chart has a square for each student’s gum. That way you can keep track of where the gum ends up.
If you give kids a place to stick it, they’ll do so – plus a chart of a forbidden items on the wall makes them happy. And it smells good!
There may be no better indicator that testing time is special than the ability to not only chew gum while working, but also to stick it up on a wall.
Hold it! You said food was a no-no
You recall me saying something about “no food-based celebrations” don’t you? Good catch! But notice that the bad examples I gave were all quid-pro-quo: “If you meet a goal, you’ll get food.”
On testing days, there is no pre-requirement for getting a snack or a drink of water. It’s brain food to keep them going, no matter how hard they are or are not trying or how right or wrong their answers are. It’s an important distinction.