Every year students, teachers, and parents are under the dreadful pressure of state testing. It’s an obstacle that many of our special needs kids must face, and it can be daunting for parents who don’t know what to do to help their children get ready. I hope you find this list of 7 ways to help your special needs child prepare for standardized testing useful.
What is State Testing Used for?
Most schools require students to take a standardized test. This is how your child’s school, district, and state know if they’re meeting benchmarks for academic performance.
The results also help teachers make important decisions such as where students should be placed academically or what intervention methods would best suit them.
Additionally, the test results show parents which subjects their kids might need extra attention this summer to get ready for next year!
Finally and most importantly, the tests give schools an idea of whether or not they are doing everything they can to help all students succeed.
Growth Mindset Schools
In some states, schools include a pre-test at the beginning of the year to see what the kids know before starting that grade. Usually, a growth mindset school gives both a pre and post-test.
A growth mindset is a belief that it’s more important for students to show growth than for them to pass a grade-level test.
What is on Standardized Tests?
Standardized tests often ask students to answer questions based on what they should have learned so far in their schooling.
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Questions are typically multiple-choice and can also include matching, ordering, or sequencing items.
Depending on the test, they cover the following subjects:
- Reading Comprehension
- Math skills
- English Language Arts
7 Ways to Help Your Special Needs Child Prepare for State Testing
Now that you know how state testing is used, let’s go over how you can help your child prepare for the testing day. First, you may want to determine what will be on the test and when and where it will occur.
#1 Accommodations for State Testing
Many of the state tests allow for students with disabilities to have testing accommodations. These testing accommodations are often similar to those that they get within the classroom.
We’ve listed some common testing accommodations below, but this is not an exhaustive list. There might be other forms of test accommodations that have been approved by your school and district as well.
- Visual (or large print) aids
- Additional time on tests
- Verbal instructions by a test administrator
- Use of a calculator, spelling dictionary, or word processor while taking a timed math exam or writing assignments
- Use of assistive technology to view or type on a computer screen, such as text-to-speech software
- Taking the test alone
- More frequent breaks
- Having the test read aloud to your child
What should you do if your child needs accommodations?
First, speak with your child’s teacher about your concerns. If your child doesn’t have an IEP, you will want to write a formal request to evaluate your child. Check out our blog 7 Steps Of The IEP Process.
If your child already has an IEP, but you feel it needs to include an accommodation, you will need to request in writing to the IEP team or school administration.
What accommodations should you be looking for?
Each student requires specific accommodation plans tailored specifically for their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important not to assume that anyone’s approach will work for everyone.
Read more about accommodations and modifications in our blog: What are Accommodations and Modifications in Special Education?
#2 Encourage a Love of Reading
All state tests involve understanding the questions. As a child reads, they develop vocabulary and reading comprehension. Reading also helps with critical thinking skills.
As we talk about in our blog, How Old Is Too Old For Read Alouds, there are many benefits to reading to your child even as they get older.
There are many choices to choose to read, including:
- Listening to audiobooks
Many children’s books relate specifically to their favorite TV show or character from a movie.
If you’re reading together, stop every few pages or so to discuss what was just read. Here are some ideas in this blog: How to Improve Reading Comprehension With Questions.
#3 Taking Practice Tests Can Help Prepare Students for State Testing
Another way to prepare for state testing is by taking practice tests. You can find practice test materials that are similar on state testing websites. In addition, your child’s teacher may also have access to practice tests. This page offers links to practice tests for a number of state testing sites.
Practice tests help with getting used to answering questions under timed conditions. This will also give your child a sense of how much time they need to spend on each question.
For example, if the test takes one hour to complete and your child needs at least an extra 15 minutes per question or task on a timed practice test, they should probably budget more time for that section.
Another thing that practice tests help with is getting them used to the format. That may be filling in bubbles on a separate answer sheet or choosing the correct answer with an online test format.
Finally, practice tests also allow students to get comfortable sitting for long periods while answering questions on paper without distractions from classmates talking around them or other disruptions they may experience at school.
#4 Assimilate a Test Environment
Another way to prepare for state testing is to make your child comfortable with the testing environment. This might involve going into the classroom before it’s time for the exam and letting them sit in a chair, take out their pencils, sharpeners, etc., and get used to what it’ll feel like.
If the test is online, allow them to use the computer and keyboard in the computer lab. For those who are especially sensitive or anxious about these things, this is an important step.
Talk with your child about the rules that may differ from regular classroom tests. For example, they may not ask questions or take a bathroom break during the test.
To do well on standardized tests that require following verbal instruction, children need as much practice with listening skills as possible. Teach your child to listen for instructions and to follow directions.
The more you prepare your child, the better they will do on their test! You want your child to learn how to take tests in general without becoming too anxious or frustrated by it – so make sure they’re comfortable with what’s going on before picking up their pencil!
Practicing Relaxation Techniques
Some students with special needs find themselves very anxious during a test. A memorized relaxation technique can help them calm down and be more able to focus on the test questions in a non-emotional way. It’s worth practicing this ahead of time to know how to do it when they need it during testing day.
Different Relaxation Techniques:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – lying or sitting comfortably, tense one muscle group at a time until he feels the tension release from his body. Start with small muscle groups like in your hands and feet before moving up to larger ones like those around your neck and back.
- Autogenic Training – focusing on an image (like floating peacefully), a word (like “peace”), or a feeling (like calm) to reduce stress and anxiety
- Deep Breathing – taking slow, deep breaths through your nose from a few seconds up to several minutes can help you quickly relax.
- Meditation – Slow down your breathing by slowing counting down; it’s important not to over-think thoughts during meditation because this may make concentration difficult.
- A familiar toy from home – If possible, allow them to bring along a calming toy or object to help keep them grounded.
Here is a fantastic resource for guided meditation for kids on Youtube. Most importantly, don’t discuss anything stressful before and during the testing. The goal is for your child’s experience on testing day to go well. And they’ll have an easier time when they’re prepared beforehand instead of waiting until the last minute.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Be sure they get to bed early the night before the test so they will be well-rested. A good amount of sleep can really help students on the day of state testing. Restful sleep is even more critical for children with ADHD and autism because they need to be fully rested to concentrate.
If your child has trouble with falling asleep, try one of these strategies:
- Try a relaxing routine before bed, like reading or listening to music (taking care not to choose anything that will trigger worries about the tests).
- Their bedroom should be as dark and quiet as possible. This helps their body know it’s time for sleep.
- Avoid eating sugary foods or drinks close to bedtime.
- Make sure that there are no distracting electronics (or any stimuli) in the bedroom while trying to fall asleep.
Eating Breakfast the Day of State Testing
Eating a healthy breakfast on the day of testing is always essential. The morning meal should be high-protein and low sugar (but not empty carbs).
Breakfast ideas include:
- Egg sandwich and an orange
- Oatmeal cooked with milk and a banana
- Omelet with yogurt mixed with fresh berries
- Tropical smoothie and boiled eggs
- Veggie omelet with fried rice
- Pita wraps
- Tofu scramble
Eating breakfast will help keep your child’s blood sugar levels stable during testing time. And not eating anything may make him feel hungry when it’s time to take the test. This can be distracting for everyone involved.
Not eating could also lead to being hyperactive while taking the test and having trouble concentrating. Additionally, if there is an interruption in regular meal times due to illness or travel schedule changes, this hunger feeling will exacerbate any stress-related issues.
State testing does vary from state to state. But, you want your child who has learning disabilities or special needs as prepared for standardized testing as much as possible. No one way works for everyone, but these ideas can help create ways for you and your child to feel prepared and calm.
Share your tips about how to make sure your special needs student is at his best on state testing day below. We love hearing from our readers, so drop us a comment today!
Here are some other special education resources you may find helpful:
- The Surprising Benefits of Reading 20 Minutes a Day
- Special Education Accommodations: Finding the Right Fit
- What Are the Best Test Taking Tips for Kids?
- Why Virtual Tutoring Works and Reasons Your Child Will Love It
- Test Anxiety Strategies for High School Students
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