Classroom Solutions > Nancy Jang > Preparing for High Stakes State Testing

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Preparing for High Stakes State Testing


In California, we do our state testing in May, but we begin reviewing and planning for it now. Second grade is the youngest grade to take state tests in California, and we take it very seriously. I hope that you will find some helpful testing tips for students and teachers in this post.



Photo Credit: Blueberries/iStockphoto


DSC00423In the district where I teach, there is a huge push for kids to do well on state tests. At my school, we only have kindergarten through 2nd grade, but we also have six or seven classes at those grade levels and about five hundred students. The pressure is especially high since we will only test one grade level, and that score is directly reflected in the API score that's published in the newspaper. So I've given testing quite a bit of thought. Here are some tips to help you get you and your kids ready for your state tests.


Before the Test

1. Testing PositionsDSC00420

During the state test, we are required to move students to discourage cheating. So early in the year, I introduce "Testing Positions." Whenever we have a math test, spelling test, or other assessment, we go to Testing Positions. The places change every month when we change desk formations and jobs, but the kids really stay focused in Testing Positions.

I have about ten areas in the classroom that do not have a person next to them, so every other student in the normal desk formations has a special testing area to go to. These areas face the wall, my horseshoe table, my volunteer worker's desk, or my teacher's desk. I have whoever's left just pull their desk forward or back from the group. This way every student has space on either side of them. Each student also gets a privacy shield to protect their answers from prying eyes.



DSC00443 2. Listening Practice with Review Quizzes

The state test is filled with tons of questions, especially in the math section, where the students are required to take notes on scratch paper and work out the problem outside of the test booklet before bubbling in the answer on the test booklet. Young kids struggle with using a separate paper and with picking out the important information while listening without visual clues.

When I review for a math exam, we create scratch paper together and learn to organize our listening notes. I give them each a standard piece of copy paper and ask them to fold it two times down and two times across. This creates a paper with sixteen boxes on it. We number every box, and then they listen carefully as I read the quiz questions. They  have to write down the important information and work out the problems. The first few times I did this, I guided them through what was important to write down and how to create the problems. Now, it's just a part of our review routine.

3. Spiral Reviews

Top_logo Even though state testing is about six weeks away, I begin planning some review time into my day. I love using Mountain Math/Language as part of my review. I have the old bulletin board kits up, but their review materials are now available as small center boards, workbooks, and even digitally, as interactive whiteboard lessons. A review has about 40 cards in every problem, so if you use it once a week, it will last 40 weeks. Some teachers use this program all year, but I prefer to use it after I have taught all the concepts and for review purposes during the second semester.


4. Books That Talk About Testing

Testing Miss Malarkey

The week before the state test, I read a great book, Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler, which follows the students in Miss Malarkey's class as they get ready for THE TEST. It's a fun look at test preparation from the kids' point of view. We talk about the similarities between what we are doing and what the kids in the book are going through. We also talk about the idea of just doing your best: I explain that the test is not going to effect their report cards, but is going to reflect upon the teachers and the school. The other books pictured above are also about testing. There is a book coming out in July 2011 called The Big Test by Julie Danneberg that I am looking forward to adding to my collection. Julie Danneberg wrote First Day Jitters (a must for every teacher!), Last Day Blues, and First Grade Letters.

5. Test-Taking Tools, Rulers, and Number Lines

DSC00424 DSC00426

Practice with the tools that you will be allowed to use during the test and practice doing without tools that you may have had all year. During the test, we are required to cover all of our bulletin boards, number lines, alphabet strips, and anything else that could help a child during the test. When I was a new teacher, I had name tags that had a number line, an alphabet, and a hundreds chart on it. The kids loved them, but when the test came and they weren't able to use them, they were very frustrated. Now, I have my kids learn to draw a number line on their scratch paper; when we have reviews, they automatically generate a number line next to their name. When the test comes, they already know what to do. I have also taught them to use the ruler they get with the test as a number line.

During our measurement unit, the kids have a lot pf practice with rulers, but all rulers are not created equal. As part of our test prep, we look at the starting points, where the zero is (if it has a zero), and where to begin measuring with it. During our spiral review, we use a ruler that is very similar to the one they will get for testing.




During the Test

Testing signThe morning of the test, make sure you have at least two sharpened number two pencils and an eraser for each child, a sign outside your door that says "Shhh. We are testing!" and a test for each child. Ask if you can look at the Directions for Administration for the section that you are doing that day. 

Before you hand out the test, have your children take a few deep breaths. Emphasize that you want them to try their best. Remind them of their choices for when they are done. (In my class it's "Read or rest after a test.") If they break their pencil, they can hold their pencil up silently and you can exchange it for them. If they are done with a section, I ask them to stay in their seats reading or resting with their pencil's point sticking out of their closed booklet. Then I come by and check to see that they answered every question before collecting their test.


Special note: When you are checking a student's booklet, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. If you do, you will notice that some of the answers are wrong and that some of the questions are poorly written and it will cause you stress! :) Trust me on this.

After the Test

DSC00445 After the whole class has completed the test each day, and the tests have been collected and delivered to the office, give the kids some downtime. Play a game, go out to P.E., or do an art project or something else fun. They deserve it. It's tough for young kids to maintain that kind of focus for an extended period of time!

I hope that you found some good tips for preparing your class for state testing. What  other tips do you have to share?

Leave a comment on this blog post and win some cool prizes for your classroom! I am giving away a 2GB flash drive, a package of five brand new books from Scholastic for your classroom library, 36 sharpened number two pencils,  and a test prep book for 2nd grade. Limit one comment per person. Comments must be submitted by Monday, March 14, 2011.


Happy reviewing,



  • #1 Nancy Jang

    Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 08:41 PM

    Chandra, Thanks for your comment. I hope that you'll be able to implement some of these ideas for next year!

    Happy Teaching,

  • #2 Chandra @ShiftC

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Thank you for these fabulous tips. It's a little too late in the game to implement your math scratch paper strategy (we test next week and are currently on spring break), but I will keep it in mind for next year's classroom. I happen to have the Testing Miss Malarkey book in my library, so I plan to read it the day we get back from break.

    Thank you for these helpful tips!

    Miss Lockett

  • #3 Nancy Jang

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 07:29 PM

    Laura, Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and for your ideas. Good luck to you on testing too!

    Happy Teaching,

  • #4 laura

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 09:16 AM

    Great ideas, especially the list of books. Another idea is sharpen pens on both ends, so they don't use the pencil eraser. We love the magic rub erasers. Also, give a a little treat each day from the test busters. It could be a roll of smarties to recharge brain cells.
    Good Luck!

  • #5 Nancy Jang

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 07:31 PM

    Linda, Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. I love using my testing positions all year long and it really helps the kids lower their fear of testing.

    Happy Teaching,

  • #6 Linda Buice

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 09:47 AM

    These are great tips. I liked the testing position tip. When I was a classroom teacher, I used that from the beginning of the year to the end. It was just so natural. Anytime you set up a routine like that, it makes state testing not as different and a little less anxiety.

  • #7 Nancy Jang

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 09:13 PM

    Thanks so much for your comment. The kids work so hard during testing, it's nice for them to have a bit of fun and relax!

    Best Wishes,

  • #8 Kathy Walsh

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 02:12 AM

    Well I love this little incentive program you are devising here to get suggestions to your great post. Congrats! I think that you make a great point about balancing the stressful aspects of testing along with the stress the books following the tests. I always promised my kids popsicles under a tree reading a book--nothing more peaceful that a popsicle!
    Thanks Nancy--terrific post!

  • #9 Nancy Jang

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 07:48 PM

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I also have a hard time when they get something wrong, especially when I know that they learned it and are just making a silly mistake. It is WAY better for me NOT to look at the actual questions and their specific answers! :)

    You are entered into my drawing. Good luck on your testing!

  • #10 Nancy Jang

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 07:45 PM

    Kayla, I'm glad that you found my post helpful! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm entering you into my raffle.

    Happy Testing,

  • #11 Sandy Cashman

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 04:52 PM

    Thanks so much Nancy for your great posts every week. This is my first year with my students taking "The Test", and I'm really nervous. It is always hard for me when one of my students has an answer wrong, so I'm going to take your advice and try to not look at the actual answers.

  • #12 Kayla Blankenship

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 12:06 AM

    I loved this information! These tips were very helpful - I loved the idea of reading a book to prepare them for the test!

  • #13 Nancy Jang

    Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 08:33 PM

    Mary Ellen,
    I'm glad that you found my post interesting. Thank you! Good luck with your testing and remember to take a deep breathe!

    You are entered in to my drawing.
    Happy Testing,

  • #14 Mary Ellen Frank

    Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 06:07 PM


    Thanks for all of the great information. I was especially interested in this week's blog because my 2nd graders take our standardized test beginning on Monday!

    We have been practicing with sample test questions, but I'm going to find time to squeeze in Testing Miss Malarkey. I really enjoy that book, but hadn't thought about reading it in preparation for the test.

    Mary Ellen

  • #15 Nancy Jang

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:41 PM

    M. Collins,
    I love that book Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and I agree with you! I feel that out of all the books, that is the one that means the most. Learn to be a good thinker!

    You are entered into my drawing. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Happy Teaching,

  • #16 Nancy Jang

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    It's so neat that your staff really gets into a skit that helps the students review good test taking skills! Thanks for sharing.

    You are entered into my drawing.
    Happy Teaching,

  • #17 Nancy Jang

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    Allison, Thanks for your comment. My kids love playing that game too. We are always trying to beat our previous times. You are entered into my drawing.

    Happy Teaching,

  • #18 Nancy Jang

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    Thanks for your comment. I love the idea about using the time when you are walking from one place to another to review on the fly. I'm gonna try this out woth my kiddos next week. Thanks for sharing.
    You are entered into my drawing.

    Happy Reviewing,

  • #19 M.Collins

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    I too read Hooray for Diffendoofer Day to my classroom. We talk about how a teacher can't teach you everything, but they can teach you to become a thinker and that is what we want them to do. Do their best thinking as they take the test.

  • #20 Gail

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    Our teachers have to "de-stress" a bit before the test, so we have fun preparing a "Deal or No Deal" skit to present to our students. Students answer questions about test taking strategies which allow them to open the cases.

    We also have a big bulletin board in the hallway. Teachers write positive testing comments and strategies on the board with bright markers.

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