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who display challenging behavior



The School Discipline Advisor High Stakes Tests: Eight tips to prepare students for high-stakes tests

By Beverley H. Johns *

Just as we teach reading, writing and arithmetic skills, we need to teach children how to prepare and take tests.

Students with emotional and behavioral problems may be able to score high on these tests if they are prepared to take them. It is our job as educators to get them ready.

Here are some recommendations for getting kids ready:

1. Provide practice tests. We gained skills in reading by being taught and by practicing our reading. Children have to practice taking tests.

As part of these exercises, we need to teach them how to carefully read directions. We need to teach them how to look for key words in the directions. We need to teach them to scan the test for easy questions for which they may immediately know the answer.

2. Emphasize not giving up. One observation I made while working with students with emotional and behavioral challenges was that they would easily give up.

If they got to question three and could not do it, they would stop and go no further. Students need to be taught that if they come to a question for which they don’t know the answer, they should move on to the next questions and then return to the hard one later.

3. Give timed tests.
Taking timed tests is something that the teacher can prepare students for by giving them so many practice questions each day, setting a timer, and then seeing if they can beat the previous day’s record.

Students can even graph their progress on completing the questions within the time frame. While stressing completion within a time limit, it is important to also graph progress on the number of questions that students answered right.
Make it a contest for the student. I am always reminded of working with Andrew, who was bright but extremely work-resistant. I would challenge him by saying, “I bet you can get that done within five minutes.” Andrew was going to prove that I was wrong—he would do it even quicker.

4. Teach students test-taking strategies
. Frender (1990) outlines some “intelligent guessing strategies” to assist students in taking tests. One of my favorite strategies to use with students is PIRATES. The strategy is appropriate for objective tests and the letters stand for:

P- Prepare to succeed-put your name and PIRATES on the test. Make affirmations.
I- Inspect the instructions.
R- Read, remember, reduce
A- Answer or abandon
T- Turn back
E- Estimate. Avoid absolutes, choose the longest or most detailed choice, and eliminate similar choices.
S- Survey.

This strategy comes from the 1996 book, Teaching Adolescents with Learning Disabilities, by D. Deshler, E. Ellis, and B. Lenz. The book also outlines other test strategies. PIRATES is one I have found motivating for students with emotional/behavioral disorders.

5. Prepare students to deal with test anxiety. Teach students relaxation techniques such as breathing and thinking happy thoughts. Teach them to engage in positive self-talk, such as, “I can do this.”

One of the techniques that author Tanis Bryan researched is to have the student, immediately prior to beginning the task, close her eyes for 45 seconds to a minute and think of something that makes her happy. The results of studies on this technique conducted with children with learning disabilities and behavior disorders and normally achieving students have shown that this technique has significant positive effects on students’ social problem-solving, performance and learning.

6. Make test settings as pleasant as possible. Having plants in the environment, whether real or silk, can make a sterile environment look more inviting. Allow students to have water bottles. Make sure chairs are comfortable. Teach students to angle the test on their desks at a comfortable position.

7. Involve students in accommodation discussions in the individualized education program.
Students, particularly by age 10 – and some even younger, can provide us with valuable input on what accommodations they prefer and may need.

8. Plan a special activity after tests are over. Many of us reward ourselves by doing something that we like to do after we have completed a difficult activity. Involve students in the planning of the special activity or event so they have something to look forward to after the testing situation.

*Beverly Johns is a learning and behavioral consultant with more than 30 years experience working with student with severe behavioral disorders.
She is president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois. Reach Beverly Johns at

Reprinted with permission from The School Discipline Advisor. Copyright 2003 by LRP Publications, 747 Dresher Road, P.O. Box 980, Horsham, PA 19044-0980. All rights reserved. For more information on products published by LRP Publications, please call toll-free 1-800-341-7874, ext. 275 or visit the Discipline & Violence Prevention section under General Education on for more information on LRP Publications’ discipline, school safety and violence prevention publications.