More Testing Accommodations

Testing accommodations in the classroom are essential for student success. Not only should the accommodations provide support for students to access material and demonstrate mastery, they should also foster a sense of confidence. When students feel successful on an assessment, that confidence can bolster future success and motivate students that may have been discouraged by their learning differences. Of course, accommodations should be tailored to each learner’s specific needs—that is why plans are called IEPs, or individualized education programs. As much as these tools vary for each individual student, there are certain accommodations that are known to assist certain styles of learners better than others.

ADD/ADHD Learners:

Again, every learner is different, so each student with ADD and ADHD exhibits different behaviors and strengths. As much as everyone has different needs, students with ADHD, who exhibit certain behaviors more frequently, can benefit from a myriad of different testing accommodations.

Reduced distractions during testing can greatly help students with attention difficulties. This accommodation can vary depending on the classroom environment. For many, as long as the class is co-taught or has a paraeducator, students with ADHD or ADD should be pulled out into a smaller group setting for testing. This removes the unnecessary distractions that a full classroom can present.

If pull-out groups are not an option, consider moving the student to the front or side of the classroom where he/she will be less inclined to look around or daze off. Another tip for reduced distractions during testing is to instruct students to simply flip the assessment over when finished, as opposed to walking up to turn it in. Students with ADHD can easily become distracted or even discouraged if others are finishing the assessment faster than they are. Additionally, seat students away from windows or within view of the door or hallway. Because students with ADHD struggle to refocus when distracted, anything from a dog walking outside to a peer passing through the hallways can deter their focus.

Consider playing soft, slow, instrumental music or nature sounds in the background while students are testing. This will drown out any compulsive pencil tapping, chair screeching, or leg-shaking. Be sure that the music or sounds do not have any lyrics or distractibility factor.

Different seating options can provide the slight mobility that students may need when testing. Something as simple as providing students with the option to sit on stools, yoga balls, floor cushions, or to stand while testing can alleviate the jitters or restlessness that some students with ADHD experience. Tactile items such as fidget cubes, moldable erasers, or stress balls can help students to focus, as well. Just be sure to monitor their use so that they work to expel energy and channel focus, rather than distract students further.

If planning allows, consider breaking up longer unit assessments into multiple days or class periods. For instance, if an exam involves multiple choice responses, short answer, and written responses, see about allowing students to submit the test in two parts over separate days. This allows students to maintain focus for each section and regroup before moving into the lengthier writing portion. This is a best practice, not only for students with attention issues, but for all learners because it keeps students’ focus from straying. Splitting an assessment up over two days allows students to refocus and maintain motivation since they are not rushing through it or eager to get it over with.

When issuing an assessment with long reading passages or a lot of the text on each page, modify the visual aspect of the exam so that students with attention difficulties are not discouraged or overwhelmed by the amount of text on the page. Simply increasing the font and/or margin size can help to visually split the test into multiple chunks or pages. This approach helps students to focus their attention on fewer questions or shorter texts from page to page, prompting them to limit their focus to one question at a time.

Testing Accommodations

Testing accommodations should help students two-fold. Accommodations should provide support for students to access material and demonstrate mastery, and they should also foster a sense of confidence and boost students’ ability to advocate for themselves. When students feel successful, especially on an assessment, that confidence is magnified and motivates students that may have been discouraged by their learning differences. It is likely that students who struggle with a learning disability look unfavorably at their ability to test well. This does not have to be the case. With testing accommodations, students can reach their full potential and truly thrive.

Executive Functions Disorder:

Of course, accommodations should be tailored to each learner’s specific needs—that is why plans are called IEPs, or individualized education programs. These tools are tailored to each individual student, as there are certain accommodations that are known to assist certain styles of learners better than others. For students with executive function difficulties, testing accommodations can changes testing woes into wins.

Because students with executive functioning disorder struggle specifically with tasks involving higher-level thinking skills, testing accommodations remove unnecessary obstacles so that students can demonstrate an accurate picture of their knowledge. For example, some students may lack confidence when it comes to multiple choice questions. It is not that he/she lacks the knowledge or skills to arrive at the correct answer, it is simply that the ability to eliminate incorrect answers becomes a major distraction.

Provide students with three answer options as opposed to four—this makes the task of elimination less daunting.

Prompt students to physically cross or scratch out the answers that they know are incorrect; reminding them of this test-taking strategy can sometimes be all the help students need.

Allow students to mark or bubble their options right on the test booklet, as opposed to transferring them to a Scantron or bubble sheet. This eliminates the possibility that they will bubble the wrong answer or unintentionally skip questions.

Encourage students to highlight, underline, or mark certain parts of the question or answer options that stand out as crucial to the question. For example, if a question asks “What is not one of the author’s purposes for writing the text?” prompt students to recognize and mark the word not to reinforce the fact that they are looking for a non-answer.

Practice explicit, direct instruction of common testing terms such as analyze, organize, complete, develop, process, etc. These concepts are difficult for all students in the sense that they require abstract thinking. However, for students with executive functioning disorder, these types of cognitive skills are the precise functions that they struggle with specifically. If a test question asks them to “assess the use of the term” consider rewording the question or providing a footnote to explain what you mean by assess.

If students are asked to organize a paragraph in response to a prompt, provide them with a graphic organizer. This small modification helps students to get the ball rolling when constructing their response. They are still tasked with writing the response; however, the intimidation factor is eased by the fact that they have a scaffold form which to work.

Similarly, providing students with sentence frames in addition to a graphic organizer can help ease the stress of a written response. Since executive function disorder is often marked by the inability to or difficulty with organizing thoughts and conveying them in written form, sentence frames provide students with a starting point and allow them to show that they have mastered the concept without the cognitive output interfering.

Standardized Testing: Teacher Tips

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The wise Benjamin Franklin once said that two things in life are guaranteed—death and taxes. Educators in the public school system would likely vote to add standardized testing to that list of guarantees. Few things dichotomize the staff lounge like the discussion surrounding the use of high-stakes tests. While both sides of the long-held debate argue vehemently for the continued use or abolishment of said standardized assessments, one thing is certain—our students, teachers, administrators, and schools will be measured by standardized tests.

With such an inevitable, and potentially stressful, certainty looming over the heads of our students, one major concern for teachers is how to alleviate test anxiety. Here are a few tips:

  1. Provide your students with test-taking strategies prior to the discussion of a major assessment. Students are likely to feel at ease when they are armed with copious strategies for tackling test questions. Prep students in advance so that the strategies are less “teaching to the test” and taught more as essential academic skills for success in higher education.
  2. Another valuable test-taking skill for all content areas involves note-taking. Strategic note-taking is not an innate skill—it must be introduced and practiced in order to master the practice successfully. Make sure that students know how to abbreviate, condense, and paraphrase main ideas and concepts. As many different strategies as there are for taking notes, there are wrong ways to do it, as well. Teaching what not to do when taking class notes can also be beneficial for students. There is no need to copy notes word-for-word; spend the time absorbing and noting new information.
  3. Provide support for practicing time management skills. This could mean allowing study sessions during class, creating a realistic study schedule or calendar, or making creative outlines and checklists for larger unit tests. Also, encourage students to space out their studying and reviewing over several days. A study log is another beneficial way to ensure that students are accountable for their own preparation before a large assessment. Taking several small breaks during a study session can help with attention span, as well.
  4. Encourage students to reread directions and seek clarification if the directions or questions are creating confusion. Guessing, stressing, or spending too much time on complicated instructions can increase test anxiety. Similarly, encourage students to skip questions that are confusing. Remind them that they can always go back and select an answer later on in the testing session. But to focus on a confusing question for too long will not only waste time, it will cause frustration and stress.
  5. Reading the questions prior to the excerpt is also a method to save time. When students know what they are looking for, they are able to work through the text or excerpt more efficiently. Also, remind students to read each question carefully, being sure to understand what is being asked before seeking the answer. Often times, in an effort to save time, students may rush through the questions and choose the initial gut response. Remind them to read questions carefully and completely.
  6. Lastly, when in doubt, remind students to use the “process of elimination” method. Especially when questions are more confusing than others, encourage them to cross off answer options that they know cannot be correct. Then, when necessary, take an educated guess of the remaining options.

When it comes to standardized tests, forewarned is forearmed. Introduce your students to these helpful tips and give them the advantage at test time.

Standardized Testing: A Parent’s Guide

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Whether a proponent of the practice or not, standardized testing is a certain reality for parents, students, and teachers in America’s public educational system. While both sides of the long-held debate argue vehemently for the continued use or abolishment of such high-stakes assessments, one thing is certain—our children, teachers, administrators, and schools will be measured by standardized tests. Aside from exercising your parental right to “opt out” of such state mandated assessments, which thousands of families have decided to do in recent years, what can parents do to ease the inevitable stress associated with these high-stakes tests?  

Well, depending on your child’s age and learning circumstances, the conversations surrounding standardized testing will vary. For children and teens with testing anxiety or other learning difficulties, it is most important to put your child at ease. As a parent, the last thing that you want to witness is your child’s worry or discomfort.

When testing becomes a part of the school year, allow your child to steer the conversation. Answer their questions honestly and validate their concerns. Yes, these tests matter; no, these tests do not define your abilities. Discuss how such assessments are just one measure of some of the things that they have learned this year. Explain to your child that the importance of an assessment is to acknowledge what they know—not necessarily to focus on what they do not know. Keeping the focus on the positive helps to reduce test anxiety and ease the worry of answering incorrectly. Remind your child that his strengths far exceed the measures of such exams.  

For the “perfectionist” child, standardized tests can be a rather hefty focus. Even if parents minimize the importance of these assessments, the perfectionist will seek success. Children who are used to doing well will inevitably put pressure on themselves when completing an assessment such as this. In this case, provide your “high flyer” with test-taking strategies. These tips not only assist during the test, but they also provide your child with the confidence they need to alleviate some of the pressure associated with acing the exam.

  • For reading comprehension sections, encourage your child to read the questions prior to the excerpt. This will prepare students as they read, and help them to be aware of what to look for in the text. Reading the questions prior to the excerpt is also a method to save time. When students know what they are looking for, they are able to work through the text or excerpt more efficiently.
  • Tell your child to mark, then skip, questions that are confusing. Remind them that they can always go back and select an answer later on in the testing session. But to focus on a confusing question for too long will not only waste time, it will also cause frustration and stress.
  • Remind your child to read each question carefully, being sure to understand what is being asked before seeking the answer. Often times, in an effort to save time, students may rush through the questions and choose the initial gut response. Remind them to read questions carefully and completely.
  • When in doubt, remind your child to use the “process of elimination” method. Especially when questions are more confusing than others, encourage children to cross off answer options that they know cannot be correct. Then, when necessary, take an educated guess from the remaining options.