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3/29/23 blog post

On Our Sleeves for educators: 6 tips for state testing season

use these strategies to ease stress during state testing

We know that state testing season can be both busy and stressful for teachers and educators as they face an ever-growing list of tasks and responsibilities including: 

  • Preparing students for the exam 
  • Creating a positive learning environment for students to test 
  • Keeping up with lesson plans and other assignments

If you're a teacher or educator who is already experiencing feelings of stress around testing season, you should take a moment to do some deep breathing, relax your shoulders, and try some of the On Our Sleeves Mindful Moment techniques.  

As a school-based mental health therapist I spent many hours in schools and many years experiencing state testing season. I’ve seen how stressful this time gets for teachers and educators just trying to do their best for their students.  And I've seen how the stress trickles down from the teachers to the students.  

Teachers can feel a lot of emotions and feelings around state testing season and that’s okay! Whether this is your first year as an educator, or you consider yourself an expert at state testing season, here are six tips for maintaining the mental well-being of both yourself and your students during this time.   

1. Take time for self-care 

This is the most important tip we can offer! Add regular self-care activities to your state testing to-do list. Make sure that you are in tune with your own emotions and feelings about state testing and the pressures that come with it.  Remember that self-care is an ongoing effort, and not a quick, fix-it strategy when you’re already feeling burnt out. 

We’ve created a self-care guide for educators that can give you some ideas for where to start,  or you can try  

  • Taking a walk after school and enjoying the fresh, Spring air.  
  • Unplug from your phone and social media. 
  • Make an effort to go to bed at a reasonable time.  
  • Pack a delicious snack that you can look forward to enjoying at lunchtime.  
  • Focus on breathing regularly and intentionally.   
  • Smile!  

2. Set expectations with students  

When it’s time to prepare your students for their test, one of the best things that you can do for their mental wellness is to share the purpose of the test and set expectations. For teachers, state testing becomes a routine part of the school year, but for your students, this may be their first time taking the test or they may have had negative experiences around the test in the past that linger on. 

Sharing the purpose might help the students to feel more at ease: 

  • Measure where students are based on the Ohio Learning Standards 
  •  Let teachers know what areas their students need the most support and improvement  
  •  Give the public information about how schools perform compared to other schools in their area. 

As you know, sharing facts like: state test scores may be tied to funding or teacher evaluations will not help decrease the pressure.   

You can also alleviate some stress on students by letting them know ahead of time:   

  • What room they’ll be testing in 
  • Which teacher will be present 
  • Where they will sit 
  • What they can do when they’re finished 
  • What to do if they need to use the bathroom! 
  • What the allotted time window is for each section 

3. Commit to a routine 

We know that you make adjustments to your normal classroom schedule to allow time for state tests, but familiar routines are helpful for students in managing their stress. Take some time to plan what parts of the school day you can keep consistent for your students. Could it be your:  

  • Morning routine? 
  • Before lunch routine? 
  • End of day routine? 

These are crucial times of day for students who thrive on stability and flourish when they know what comes next.  If possible, try to keep students in the same room with the same teacher. If not possible, try to make an effort to visit the testing classroom to help your students become more comfortable.  

4. Check-in with students

A few days before the test, maybe you find some time to check in with your students and their emotions surrounding the state test.    

  • Asking a journal prompt question 
  • Issuing a classroom survey  
  • Scheduling 1 on 1 chat with students 
  • Inviting the class to a group discussion   

To spark the conversation try some of these conversation starters:  

  • What worries do you have about the test? 
  • What are some negative things that you’ve heard about the test? 
  • What do you think is something positive about taking a state test?  

5. Practice problem-solving  

Some students may feel test stress around not knowing the answer to a question. This can cause them to freeze up and become struck, making them even more stressed and fearful about taking such a big test. You can help prepare them for this possibility by sharing a few tried and true problem-solving techniques. When students feel more equipped to handle road-blocks, they’ll feel overall less stressed when approaching the test.    

Here are some problem-solving techniques to practice: 

  • Ruling out the wrong answer 
  • Going with your gut! Pick the one that you first thought was right.  
  • Giving a question your best guess and not spending too much time on difficult questions.   
  • Relaxing themselves with mindful techniques that won’t distract other test takers. On Our Sleeve’s Mindful Mini’s can be very helpful to students. Try them with your students a few days leading up to the test.  

6. Stay Positive  

This tip is all about positive vibes. As a teacher, you know that your students are looking to you to guide their testing experience . They will absorb positive and unfortunately negative energy. Sometimes negative energy comes from students overhearing teacher to teacher conversations. As a teacher, you are your students’ biggest cheerleader! 

Here are some of these mind re-framers :

Replace “If you don’t do well on these tests, all your friends will be moving on to the next grade and you will be stuck here again with me.”  with  “Try your hardest to show us what you have learned so far this year.” 

Replace “Don’t ask me any questions, I can’t help you.” with “I won’t be able to give you the answers to the questions, but if you have a question about what to do during the test please raise your hand. We are a team and I am here to support you.” 

Replace “This is a very important test, everything is riding on this”  with “The scores of this test will not be reflected on your report card. These tests help your teachers to see where we can give you more support.” 

Replace “Get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast.”  with  “Get as much rest as you can and let us know if you need support.”  

For students who don’t have a way to get a good night's sleep or eat breakfast, they may not come to school or feel that they can’t do their best because of their concrete thinking.  

As a teacher, you are your students’ biggest cheerleader! Pile on the positive praise before your students take the test. Remember to focus on their work ethic and ability to overcome challenges! 

Join the Classroom Champions 

On Our Sleeves knows that our educators work hard every day to care for students’ learning and also their mental wellness. Our goal is to provide you with the tools and resources you need to create a safe and supportive learning environment for your students. That's why we created the Classroom Champions e-newsletter.  

By subscribing to our list, you'll receive valuable information and tips on how to promote mental wellness among your students and how to prioritize your own mental health as well. Click the button below to receive monthly mental health resources and support for focusing on mental health in the classroom.

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Emily Weitz, BSW, LSW

Community Behavioral Health Outreach Specialist
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