[Assessment] Benchmarking Best Practices

Thursday, December 17, 2015 -- Shannon LaBree

The education landscape is constantly evolving and changing. The way educators taught 50 years ago is substantially different from today’s style of teaching. With such constant change, keeping current with the latest trends and best practices is critical. One of the most buzzworthy trends today is using benchmark assessments to gauge learning and prepare students for high-stakes testing. So, what are some best practices to start utilizing benchmarks in your school or classroom? And how can educators effectively prepare students for upcoming benchmark tests? We’ve put together these five actionable tips!

1. Keep It Small

Break up your benchmarking exams into several stages to help students avoid feeling overwhelmed. Testing is inherently stressful for many students. Breaking up your benchmarking into different phases (testing a single subject at a time is a good strategy) allows students to focus on a single topic and, as a result, feel more in control. In addition, educators know that after a long period of time, students of all ages and abilities begin to lose interest. Giving benchmark exams in a manageable, single-subject format can help provide a more accurate measure of what knowledge students actually possess in the given subject area.

2. Use Your Data

By leveraging data that you’ve already collected on your students, you can group them accordingly and reteach the areas that need more focus prior to administering benchmark tests. Past data can show you what subject areas students may be struggling in along with what has already been mastered. Using your data to break up your students into smaller groups helps personalize instruction and keep students engaged with the right material for them.   

3. Help Your Students Prepare in Advance

Review for the benchmark exam at least one week before it’s given by providing a fun, stress-free refresher course to prepare your students for what material will be on the exam. Make sure that they are actively learning, but having fun in the process. Engage your students with hands-on, interactive review work in small or large groups. Create games around the subject you are preparing to test on, or consider coming up with a reward system to make the review process both fun and beneficial.

4. Teach Effective Exam Strategies  

Knowing the right test-taking practices can make a huge difference for students on exam day. Teach your students to start with what they feel most comfortable. Taking exams can be stressful and overwhelming. Often, we forget that we don’t have to go in order. Remind students not to spend too much time on any single question and that it’s okay to move on if they don’t know an answer. Unanswered questions can always be returned to once students are done with the rest of the test.

5. Provide Adequate Time

Providing your students with enough time to take their benchmark exams is very important. If students feel rushed, they will be more likely to struggle on the exam due to stress and anxiety. However, it’s also important to make sure that your students understand how best to use their time during the exam. Encourage them to save time at the end of the exam to review their answers.

Benchmark assessments can be a great strategy to monitor student progress and effectively individualize instruction. Make use of these five tips to help jump start your benchmarking program and save students unnecessary additional exam stress. And finally, one sure-to-please bonus tip—consider giving your students a piece of dark chocolate before they take their benchmark tests. Studies have shown that it helps improve performance on visual and cognitive tasks, as well as short-term memory and reaction time. Besides, students will love the idea of getting a treat before their test, and that bit of motivation certainly can’t hurt!  

Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s solutions for benchmark testing? Check out how Study Island Benchmark Assessments can help prepare your students for next-generation state testing!