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[10 District Tips] Improve Test Scores

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 -- Beth Holine

1. Ensure that students are prepared for next-generation assessments

Not only are next-generation assessments more rigorous, but they may be presented in a format students are unfamiliar with. Gone are the days when pure content knowledge and a pencil are all students need to succeed on a test.

Below are a few things your students will need to have to be successful:

  • Device Familiarity
  • Understanding of how to Navigate the Test
  • Exposure to Technology-Enhanced Item Types
  • Basic Keyboarding Skills

Make sure that your district is giving students enough preparation and time with these items to ensure success. You can check out this blog post on next generation assessments for more information and tips. 

2. Benchmark your learners

Before you get started preparing students for their assessments, it’s very important to know where your learners are compared to the standards they will be assessed against. A benchmark assessment can help your teachers or administrators identify which learners have stayed on track, which ones have gotten ahead, and which ones have some knowledge gaps. You can then use this information to help determine your instructional tactics or the direction your programs need to take. 

3. Get parental buy-in

Parents can be strong motivators for your learners. If you can achieve parental buy-in, the likelihood of students having testing success dramatically increases. Help your administrators and teachers by setting up standard communication points to ensure that parents are regularly informed and continue to be involved in their child’s education. Technology makes communication easier than ever. You can read more about using technology to engage parents here.

4. Create a culture of positivity

As Henry Ford is credited for saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.” It is critical to create a culture of positivity throughout schools in your district all year, but it is especially important before high-stakes exams. There is often a lot of nervousness before exams, so make sure you are the cheerleader and exude positivity that will ripple down to teachers and students.

5. Practice makes perfect

Practice tests can ensure that your students are making the desired amount of progress before a high-stakes exam and help guide instruction (making sure that your teachers are concentrating on the areas of most need for each student). But be sure to encourage your teachers and administrators to incorporate multiple modalities into students’ practice—not just taking practice tests. Have students independently exercise the knowledge they have gained by including games, writing, speeches, etc., to help them retain information and gain a deeper understanding of concepts.

6. Leverage your data

You most likely have access to a lot of data on your students, whether it is results from previous high-stakes exams or data that has been collected in the classroom. This data can be your best tool to differentiate instruction and determine how to prepare your students for testing. Make use of formative assessment strategies to identify which concepts and skills students are struggling with and where individualized attention is needed. 

7. Provide incentives

High-stakes tests can create a lot of anxiety for everyone. Providing incentives can help ease the tension, create a healthy dose of competition, and add a little fun to test preparation. You can do something as simple as a pizza party or as elaborate as a pep rally. Find out what would get your students and teachers excited, and start planning! 

8. Stimulate students' brains

There are a few simple in-classroom techniques that teachers can use to keep students’ brains engaged to help increase achievement and mastery of standards.

  • Sipping water: Studies show that students need a sip of water about every 10 minutes when they are working to keep the brain hydrated. Share this tip with your students, and encourage them to keep bottled water with them in class every day, not just on test day.
  • Peppermint: Diffusing peppermint oil or eating peppermint candies helps concentration. However, be sure that you are being consistent and doing that for all tests and quizzes throughout the year.
  • Seated stretching: Effective seated stretching can improve student focus. This tip is one that students can use during the test as well. 

9. Put it all together -- make a testing success plan!

Get out your pen and paper, and write all of your ideas down! Make a plan that includes formative testing strategy, expectations for review sessions, ways you will differentiate instruction, and how you will track student progress. 

10. Send your teachers our blog - [10 Classroom Tips] Improve Test Scores

Shameless plug, I know, but we have some really valuable information in this blog post that can help out your teachers. So, please share the love and the blog post (email it, tweet it, like it, etc.).

Bonus Resources

Four Steps to Design Your Own Test-Preparation Boot Camp

Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Levels -- The Basics

Measuring Student Performance and Academic Growth

Looking for an online solution to support test preparation in your district? Study Island and Edmentum Assessments offer formative assessment capabilities, targeted content for individualized learning, and program-level reporting to help you enable data-driven instruction.