If you haven’t heard it yet, any day now your child will likely come home mumbling something about the upcoming PSSAs, or whichever standardized testing system your state utilizes. Some are excited (Cool! We get new pencils and the teacher said we can chew gum during the tests!), some are annoyed (Ugh! I hate tests! Why do we have to do this?), and some are very anxious (How long do they last? What will happen if I don’t do well?). Personally, I currently have one on each end of the spectrum in my house. One of my kiddos LOVES to learn and apply her knowledge to her daily activities. She sees test-taking as a way of confirming what she knows, and the idea of sitting at her desk for hours reading, thinking and filling in those fun bubbles honestly excites her. Another one of my kiddos HATES test-taking and all that goes along with it. The whole process–the prep weeks before in class, the pep rally leading up to it, the handing out of the tests, the actual test itself–it all stresses him out. So what’s a mom to do? How do we prepare our kids for tests like this? Are there PSSA management tips that will actually help your kiddo?
As a former classroom teacher (who administered plenty of PSSA tests) and a current educational consultant specializing in ACT and SAT testing, I have learned a lot about test-taking and how to handle the emotions that go along with it. While I can’t promise to make your kiddo love standardized testing, I do promise to help you through it the best I can. Some of these tips may sound like the same old-same old, but let me explain WHY, we as teachers, want you to do these things with your child…
PSSA Management Tips that Really Work:
1. Talk about it! Don’t just brush over it with a simple “Oh, it will be fine”. Will it be fine? Yes. But your child needs more from you. Whether he is excited about the test or already dreading it, take time to talk through things. Let him lead the conversation and do your best to sort out how he is feeling about things. What is he nervous about? What is he excited about? At the top of PSSA management tips, listen and let your conversation be led by what your child is feeling. As teachers, we can’t possibly have these conversations one on one with each and every child, so we are counting on you to do this and to please, please let us know how we can help. If you know your child is anxious, we can help come up with a plan to ease those fears. Like many aspects in education, we teachers and parents need to work as a team.
2. Stress that the test is only a way to check what they know. I have seen so many kids get worked up by standardized testing. They worry about what it means, what it says about them, what will happen if their scores are not high enough, and the list goes on and on. Kids should not be carrying this weight on their shoulders. Am I saying to tell them it doesn’t matter? No. What I am saying is that we need to stress to them that the test’s job is only to see what they know. What do we want your child to do? We want your child to come to school rested and well-fed (more on that in a minute) and try his or her very best. Do we want perfection? No. Do we want effort? Yes. And that’s all we can ask of our little test-takers: to give it their best effort.
3. Help your child get good sleep. It sounds obvious, I know. I have seen students come into the test already putting their head on their desk and resting before we have even gotten through the directions pages. Here’s the thing: extended testing is exhausting. It is physically and mentally draining, so if your little one is coming to school already tired, she is starting the test at a disadvantage. I am a mom first and a teacher second, so let me pause here to say that I absolutely understand that getting a child to bed “early” is not always an easy feat. However, do your very best to be sure that your child is getting adequate and quality sleep going into the test. It is one of the hands-on things we, as parents, can do to help our children through the testing day. And we, as teachers, truly appreciate it because once your child is at school and exhausted, there really isn’t much we can do to help her feel energized and ready to take on the test.
4. Plan healthy (and hearty!) meals and snacks. I know, you’ve heard this before. Big healthy breakfast, yadda yadda yadda. Really, though, it is so true. Testing is long. It’s long for an adult. For a child, it truly feels endless. Being hungry on top of that just adds to the agony. (That whole “hangry” thing? Not fun. Especially in a room full of kids who are already using all of their little minds to focus on a test!) The healthy part is also super important. Try to limit sugar and up the proteins/fruits/veggies. The last thing we want to see is a kiddo who cannot perform to his ability because he’s had too much sugar or not enough quality food. While we can’t control how our child performs on a test, we can control how he feels going into the test.
5. Keep your evenings low stress and low key. By the end of the day, you can pretty much expect your kiddo to be zonked. Coming home to a night of go, go, go likely isn’t going to end well–for any of you. I fully realize that weeknights are busy, and I am not suggesting that you drop everything on your schedule. But…when you are looking ahead to the week(s) of the test, trying to limit extraneous activities will be helpful to all involved. This is among my favorite of the PSSA management tips. Low key nights at home will help (and most, if not all schools and teachers will eliminate homework during the test, so that should help!) to relax your child and help prepare him for tomorrow’s test. This goes hand in hand with getting plenty of sleep: if your child comes to school already exhausted, there isn’t a whole lot we can do to better that situation.
6. Tell your child how proud you are. These tests are a lot of work. They really are. Kids work hard every day, but on test days, they work extra hard. Above all of these PSSA management tips, when they get home, give them lots of praise. Tell them how proud you are of their efforts. I can assure you that we are doing the same at school because we are truly proud of your children. And let’s be honest; an extra scoop of ice cream certainly wouldn’t hurt!
Unfortunately, there’s no real end in sight for tests like this. There’s always some new test on the horizon, and let’s not forget the SAT and ACT’s that will be creeping into my kids’ picture far sooner than I’m willing to admit. These aren’t tests we can help our kids study for, despite these smart PSSA management tips. Nights spent drilling vocabulary or math problems will not help and, if I’m being honest, really just aren’t worth it in the long run.
For better or worse, our job as parents is to prepare our kids for LIFE. Do I think mastering standardized tests is a life skill? Nope. But I do know that, at least for now, these tests are part of their lives. So what we can do is teach our kiddos how to best be prepared for not just these tests, but other tough school situations that come their way.
You’ve got this, mamas…and so do your little ones. Here’s to stress-free testing with these PSSA management tips!
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