The concept of test anxiety is not new to educators, and great strides have already been made to improve students comfort with assessments and tests. However, it's important to note that much of the prevalent test anxiety coping strategies are based on preparing students for the traditional fill-in-the-bubble, seat-and-desk testing format.
PARCC and Smarter Balanced are Bringing Big Changes
Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, the Common Core Assessments (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) will usher in an era of computer-based testing. Additionally, initial reports suggest the tests will take students 7-10 hours to complete.
Are your students ready to take a 7-10 hour assessment via a computer or 10 tablet? If not, theres no reason to panic. Just like traditional tests, the best way to prepare test-anxious students for computer-based assessments is to offer practice and familiarity with the settings, concepts, and expectations.
Helping Students Cope with Computer-based Test Anxiety
1) Ease into the duration and focus required by Computer-based Testing
Think about a training regiment for a marathon. Youre not expected to run 26.2 miles right off the bat, right? Instead, you work your endurance levels up, beginning with shorter distances and steadily increasing as you become more and more ready.
Familiarizing students with the duration and focus required by PARCC and Smarter Balanceds assessments requires a similar progression. Start slow, asking students to focus for 15-25 minute periods while using the electronic devices. Then, as the tests get closer, try to work your students up towards longer periods (45 minutes, one hour, two hours, etc.).
2) Provide opportunities to practice the new input and response methods
Gone are the days of fill in the corresponding bubble on your answer sheet. The PARCC and Smarter Balanced Consortiums are interactive and require students to input responses via the keyboard and/or click-and-drag functionality. Students must be aware of these required digital interactions and how they work.
Seek digital educational platforms that mirror the PARCC and Smarter Balanceds digital functions. This includes typing responses into boxes on the screen and using the mouse/touchscreen to click and drag items digitally into the correct place on the screen.
3) Model the Deeper Dive required by the Common Core Assessments
Say goodbye to the testing only simple skills and information as well. According to a recent study by UCLAs National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), PARCC and Smarter Balanced both significantly increase the amount of responses requiring the use of support, analysis, and application skills.
To combat students surprise towards the deeper knowledge questions, utilize peer-based discussions and project/problem-based learning activities to scaffold your students ability to take basic learning skills and apply them to higher-order thought and resolutions. Or, in other words, add challange to instruction by going beyond basic skills and memorization.
Lastly, Some Universal Test Anxiety Advice
The following statement may seem cheesy, but it can go a long way with students (when presented in a genuine manner.) Regardless if the assessment requires a pencil-to-paper or finger-to-screen, just remember to reassure your students that no one can be disappointed in them if they give their best effort.
However, providing your kids a heads-up on what to expect from the new Common Core digital assessments might help the chances of seeing a calmer, more-collected best effort.