How kids take standardized tests

boyswritingI wish you could see my third graders take a standardized test.  I wish policy makers could see what it’s really like during standardized testing week.

First, the classroom itself changes.  You have to cover the learning posters, so all you are left with is cinderblock walls.  You have to arrange the desks into rows, not tables.  This makes the room ugly, unwelcoming—and crowded.  (Often, there are so many desks in a classroom, the only way they all fit is when they’re arranged in tables.) With the desks in rows, the room becomes almost unnavigable.

The social environment changes.  Today’s classrooms are based on interactive learning, group work, and building social skills.  Suddenly, everything becomes silent. The life is sucked out of the room as the teacher reads aloud the miserable incomprehensible interminable long standardized test directions.

The kids generally experience a test security panic.  Students are told that we have to follow the rules exactly, and that any testing irregularity must be reported to the state.  Kids feel like the government is spying on the classroom, like it’s not theirs anymore.  Now, every move is suspect:

  • No one may be out of their seat, so the kids can’t even sharpen a pencil.  (Raise your hand and the teacher will bring you one.  Remember to give the teacher your old pencil—a kid can only have one thing on her desk!)
  • Why do students need to go to the bathroom?  (Here, let me hold your paper while you are gone.  Remember—only one student out of the room at a time!)

Finally, kids face the test itself.  My students are so confused!  Even though we practice, nothing prepares them for the reality of spending hours and hours on a confusing test.  No help allowed.  Teachers have to watch helplessly while their beloved students struggle.

No matter how you prepare kids, they really don’t understand the test format.  The kids are just trying to do their best in a confusing situation.  Their frustration level rises because teachers are not allowed to give any feedback or answer questions.  If kids go ahead to new test sections, they don’t realize they have created a testing irregularity.  If kids go back and reread their essay, they don’t realize they have created a test security problem.

In my state, students in third grade bubble the answer right next to the question.  Confusion is multiplied tenfold when a separate answer sheet is required, as it was for my fourth and fifth graders.  Just finding the right place to bubble can be an insurmountable challenge for a kid who has trouble coding (as in ADD/ADHD).

And that’s just the experience for an average student.  Consider the predicament of:

  • The student with a learning disability, struggling through a math test he can’t read
  • The student who doesn’t speak English
  • The student with test anxiety
  • The student with low blood sugar
  • The hyperactive student
  • The student with irritable bowel syndrome
  • The student who barfs halfway through the test  (And the rest of the class—how do they deal with THIS?)
  • The student who takes all day to finish (there is no time limit!)

What a way to show the world how much you have learned!

Posted in Academics,Classroom Management by Corey Green @ Feb 21, 2010



  1. Oh, and by the way, anxiety shuts down your brain’s memory function.

    I do not know how to teach away test anxiety. Stage fright is reduced somewhat with practice on stage. But teaching test taking is a horrible way to teach anything.

    Comment by Stephen — May 18, 2011 @ 10:43 AM

  2. I assure you, teachers teach the subjects. When I was a child, my parents spent a lot of time preparing me for new situations and experiences. Being a miitary kid, I moved a lot, and each new school was scary at first. But support at home helped to ease my fears. That’s the same thing I try to do for my students: introduce them to a new situation before they’re called on to perform. Thank you for commenting.

    Comment by Corey Green — May 18, 2011 @ 11:46 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.