End-of-Year Testing in Special Ed 3 BIG tips

No one likes end-of-year testing. But, I think if you teach students with significant challenges, you probably dread it more than most. Testing our students is not only stressful for all involved, but it can sometimes lead to negative feelings of inadequacy. Even though we KNOW our students struggle to demonstrated what they truly know, especially on a standardized tests, we somehow take it personally when they don’t do as well as expected.

I am not saying these tips will solve all your problems. I am not naive enough to think a simple list will make your students pass a sometimes un-passable test. But, at least it will help you feel like you are as prepared as you can be. And your students will feel confident and supported regardless of the final score.

Of course, I will have some free downloads throughout, so make sure to grab them to help your end-of-year testing journey go a little more smoothly.

1. Background

So, tip #1 is to gather as much background information as you can. I am including a checklist you can download HERE that I used and tweaked over the years. I love checklists, and hope this one will help you out too!

What do I mean by background? I mean learn as much as you can about:

  1. The test
  2. How the student has done in the past
  3. Where, who and what will be involved

I can remember sitting through so many teacher test-prep sessions. Someone would get up and drone on and on about the mechanics of the tests. How to read the directions. How to provide assistance. When and if you could take breaks. I am not saying that it was not helpful or important, it was. But, I wanted to talk to other TEACHERS who had given the test last year. Preferably teachers who had taught my students in past years.

Given the fact there is some limitation to what we are ethically allowed to discuss, I came up with this CHECKLIST that I would start carrying around with me in March. I would take it to trainings, to school visits, any where I thought I might run into a teacher who had administered the test last year. I just kept bugging people until I could get as much checked off as I could.

You can download that checklist HERE.

I also hunted for any sample tests that were made available beyond what was given during the training. The more samples I could attain, the better I could prepare my students. The better my practice problems would be. From the samples I could create my own problems that looked like those the students would likely see.

Getting myself as prepared as possible was the first step.

2. IEP’s

Tip #2 is really getting to know those IEPs. From the very beginning of the year, I would make sure I was aware of any testing accommodations or modifications that were on each student’s IEP. I knew that for my students, especially, they would need to practice testing with these accommodations in place as much as possible. This often included using adaptive aids, communication devices, scribes, or even translators. By the time end-of-year testing came around, these accommodations were just a normal part of the process.

Sometimes, I got new students who had no or very few accommodations. This is another good reason to review the IEP’s for testing support right at the beginning of the year. Take some time to get to know the students, but don’t let too much time go by before you have a meeting to add some appropriate accommodations to the IEP.

I know, UGH!, not another IEP?!!? But, it will be so worth it come end-of-year testing time. DO NOT wait for the annual review to add these in. Students deserve to have the support they need to perform their best on EVERY test. So, add these in as soon as possible if they are missing or inadequate.

3. GENERALIZE

Again, if you teach in special education, you KNOW how important and challenging generalization of a skill can be. Tip #3 is all about generalizing those testing skills. Once you have a good feel of the format and approximate content of the end-of-year test, then set a plan in place to start generalizing.

I have a sample plan you can download HERE.

It is very likely that you will need to do the actual testing in a separate, monitored space like a conference room. I think EVERY year I tested (except one) my students and I had to venture to a far end of the building we rarely frequented to take the test. One year, we had to use the principal’s private conference room. Luckily, my students did not have any negative past experiences “going to the principal’s office,” but surely you can imagine typical students having a panic attack just having to walk through that door. Forget the fact they have to actually “perform” on an exam that could determine if they are promoted to the next grade or not.

So what are some things to things to think about when focusing on generalization? Here are a few:

  1. Location: classroom (familiar or new), conference room (windows, paintings on the walls, plants or other high interest items), familiar location that is used for another purpose (like the library can be confusing if now they have to sit and take a test and not listen to story time)
  2. Seating: desk (familiar or new), table, type of chair (stationary or rolling, padded or hard), height or chair (can their feet touch the floor? This was a HUGE issue for me one year when a student had a melt down simply because their feet were dangling above the floor. The whole test was delayed by a day until we could locate an appropriate chair.)
  3. Lighting: Oh yes, our kids are soooooo sensitive to different types of lighting. Also, check out where the sun is during that time of the day, and will it be a distraction if unable to be blocked with blinds.
  4. Sound level
  5. Traffic outside the door
  6. Smells

You can download a checklist of things to think about when generalizing across environments, people and stimuli by clicking HERE.

So those are some things to think about the environment. But, there is a lot more to generalization. Think about who else might be in the room. Will there be a monitor? Will you be administering the test? Luckily, since our students can be so complex, I was always the one testing my own students. But, I know if you have students with less significant needs, they may end up being tested by another special ed teacher or even an unknown proctor.

Finally, be sure to practice lots of problems using different types of layouts, manipulatives, and wording. By the time the test comes, you will likely feel like you could write these questions for a testing company because you will have ended up creating so many sample problems of your own.

So there you have it, my 3 BIG ways to prep for end-of-year testing:

  1. BACKGROUND
  2. IEP
  3. GENERALIZATION

One last word, be gracious and forgiving to yourself. Try to not internalize and blame yourself if your students do no perform well. Of course, I know in some states your salary may be tied to student performance (which is crazy), but if you take some time to purposefully prepare your students they will do the best they can. What more can we ask?

I have a few resources you may find helpful preparing for this time:

  • Blog post: Assessment in special education (click HERE). This will give you some great tips on how to set up your own assessments and allows your students to demonstrate growth.
  • Social story and activities: Taking a Test (click HERE)
  • Social story and activities: Perseverance (click HERE)

One final comment, many of my units (especially math and science) in my store were developed knowing what I know about end-of-year testing (in NC and OH). I tried to cover the topics and use questions that would look familiar to students.

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