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With tests on the horizon, students urged to relax

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Fifth-grader Taylor Chisholm studies Thursday at Homer Intermediate School.

If you’re a third- through eighth-grader, you’re preparing for standardized tests for mathematics and English Language Arts, a process that might cause some stress.

Or, if you’re like Groton fourth-grader Judson Holl, it may not cause any anxiety at all.

His mother, Gina Holl, said her household has put no big focus on her kids’ performance on standardized test.

“We don’t see it as an indication of intelligence or success. It’s a one-time test and we look more at his progress for the whole year and he knows that,” Holl said.

But for students who may feel some anxiety over the tests, which are used to measure how well districts are progressing with state learning standards, school officials urge students to relax.

Administrators and educators say students should just do their best.

Homer Superintendent Nancy Ruscio said the district will start its computer-based testing starting Monday with fifth-graders. Each grade has three days of testing. Students in grades three through five will take the tests on their Chromebooks while sixth- through eighth-graders will take the traditional pencil and paper tests on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

In Cortland, third-graders will take tests on computers this year while the other grades will be taking the pencil and paper tests, said Jeff Craig, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The third-graders he watched practice for it seemed to enjoy using the computers. He added =there seems to be less stress this year because the tests are no longer used as a final evaluation rating for teachers, but rather an advisory source.

Next week’s tests are the English Language Arts tests; the mathematics tests are the first week of May.

The tests are meant to measure cumulative progress, so kids can’t really prepare by last-minute cramming, said Homer Intermediate School Principal Stephanie Falls.

But parents can help kids do better, educators said:

• Help students develop critical thinking skills by applying math and English language skills to everyday moments, Falls said. When reading, teach intuitive thinking and perseverance, she says, by asking your child for reasons why a character may be crying in a certain passage, for example, and teach strategies to use context to understand a new or difficult word.

• With math, everything from home improvement projects to baking can provide fertile ground for teaching, Falls said. “Apply math to everyday life. When talking to children, say we’re going to double the recipe, what does that mean (for the measurements).”

• Make sure the child gets a good night’s sleep, and eats a good breakfast, Craig said.

• At Moravia Middle School, guidance counselor Tamara Austin teaches breathing and centering exercises that students can use before any test or otherwise stressful experience. The two-minute exercises help students learn how to control their anxiety and calm the nervous system, she said.

“It gives them that strength that they know they can do that at any point when they are feeling stress or anxiety,” she said.

Above all, Austin said she thinks “the students are ready for it.”

No students have expressed anxiety to her over the upcoming tests, which Austin attributes to the work she and teachers have put into teaching students how to manage stress.

Ruscio anticipates students will actually enjoy the tests, saying she got positive feedback when the district ran a pilot program with the computerized testing last year.

“Students today are much more comfortable with technology than paper and pencil,” Ruscio said. “It’s just their world.”
Ruscio said parents should de-emphasize the stress.

She says taking the tests teaches valuable life lessons.

“I believe it teaches persistence and grit, which is an important life skill,” she said.

Students should think of school as their “job,” Ruscio said, and that the testing just “comes with the job.”

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