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Can We Raise Test Scores (Again)?

Let’s explore how you can boost test scores by making small interventions and simple changes at the last moment.

First, a simple disclaimer: I don’t support 95% of all the testing being done on kids. I love accountability, but not crazy-making testing that gives self-serving data; data that helps you do better on the next test, instead of in real life where the tests should be targeting. Having said that, things are what they are. Let’s focus on the here and now.

Here is a plan that will help you maximize testing for your students.

Research: Recent Discovery on Testing

You have only five variables you can tweak in the days, hours and minutes before the actual test time. The biggest variable is how well kids have learned what will be on the test. If you haven’t taken care of that variable all year long, you have fewer options. It’s too late to add much content when you get real close to test time.

The single best thing you can do in the weeks and days before the testing is…have students take tests. Testing produced better overall recall than did restudying (Roediger and Karpicke, 2006). Give them small chunks of “mock tests” that will mimic the real ones. But the research gets a bit more complicated from here out.

What about getting feedback on the mock tests?

When tests are NOT accompanied by feedback, some items (i.e., those that were not correctly retrieved) might not benefit from testing (Pashler et al., 2005).

This tells you feedback has two sides: if you get it wrong, you NEED feedback. If it’s right, it’s less important to get feedback.

The debriefing should begin as a social event with the teacher and classmates involved. Then shift it to a personal assignment. Let students improve their “mock” test cores with a reflective test analysis. Here, students write about each question they got wrong: 1) what was their approach, 2) how they came up with the wrong answer, and 3) what they would do differently next time. Give students partial credit for each debriefed corrected answer. This empowers students by helping them become more thoughtful tests takers and reduces their stress by putting more of the process in their control.

Read carefully to what a team of cognitive psychologists says;

“Information that has been tested will be remembered better over time than information that has been restudied. This test-induced benefit is apparently stronger when repeated tests over the same information are provided. These results suggest that tests should be utilized often in educational contexts to maximize retention of information over long time periods.” (Carpenter, et al., 2008, page 446).

Encourage (even mandate) the asking of questions in the weeks and days leading up to the test. Students who are struggling academically are rarely asking the most questions in class. Researchers have found that low-achieving students are often the most reluctant to seek assistance and that a negative or fearful perception of “help seeking” is to blame (Ryan, et al. 1998).

The Ryan study involved 500 students and 25 teachers in 63 sixth-grade math classes throughout 10 Michigan middle schools. The researchers found that low-achieving students tend to perceive question asking as a sign of inability and associate it with feeling “dumb.” Conversely, high achievers with greater confidence are less likely to worry about what others think and tend to focus on the benefits of seeking help, notes the study.

Advise learners to take inventory of their projected goals, time-management skills, and study habits; and to reorganize them appropriately. Students who give their academic concerns top priority and allow ample time for studying (including exam preparation) often perform best (Yaworski, 1998). If help is needed in establishing a personal study schedule, or if chronic procrastination persists, encourage learners to seek the advice of a guidance counselor or related professional.

Next, in the days coming up to the testing, students often get stressed (the teachers are, of course, totally relaxed!)

The three best ways to get kids more relaxed are each about control (it’s the counterbalance to stress.) First, help them take more control over the process of making choices for when, what type of, and where to prepare. (You pre-select the options.) For example, let them choose which content sections they want to prep for first. Second, teach them self-regulation strategies such as slow deep breathing to relax. Third, teach them how to reframe the testing experience, to help them be more in charge of it. Tell your students, “Tests are a school’s way to assess their schooling success. We want to find out what we’re doing well and what we need to do differently. The tests tell us what changes we can make to develop your brain as best as possible.” Read more