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Get Your Students Ready for Online State Testing!

Do you believe your students will be ready for state testing with either the SBAC or PARCC (or some variation of them)?  I try to prepare my students all year long for state testing so that by April, they’ll be prepared to tackle the California version of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

In the past, I’ve given some tips and suggestions for getting ready for these assessments.  Since I have five years of experience administering the SBAC to my students, I thought I’d update those tips and give some new suggestions!

Be ready for state testing with these tips and ideas

This past year, my grade level at my school doubled the number of proficient students from the previous years of state testing.  I think some of that can be attributed to the fact that we were more strategic in preparing the students to take an online test.

How do we prepare our students?

The nuances of online state testing need to be understood so that students can adapt.  In this post, I hope to give you tips, suggestions, and ideas that you can implement right now before your state testing window opens up!

What is the Comfort Level of Your Students with State Testing?

As a 1:1 classroom, my students are very comfortable with using the technology to work on assignments, projects and even to take an assessment. Why?  Because we’ve been using the Chromebooks since the first month of school!

To get students very comfortable with the technology, they need to be using it daily until the testing window begins.  They need as much practice as possible so they can adapt to reading text on a screen rather than in a book or on a paper.  Students who read on a screen can more quickly than if they were reading from a book.

Do you use mice or trackpads? Earbuds or headphones?

Think about peripheral technology like trackpads, mice and earbuds or headphones.  Using a mouse is very different than using a trackpad.  Most students take a while to learn to use a mouse.  A mouse also needs more room to move around and may need a pad.

If students are used to using a trackpad, stick with that and don’t use the mice.  Teach students who use a trackpad to use a trackpad as many are configured as one and two-button mice are. Earbuds are preferable to headphones.  Headphones can get students sweaty and hurt their outer ears if left on too long.  Train students to take earbuds out or headphones off if no audio is involved.

Using Google Slides for projects

Since the beginning of school, my students have been using Google Slides for many projects that I have created as Interactive Digital Notebooks, as well as, practicing math skills in Google Slides with movable objects that represent virtual math manipulatives. This is important as students need to learn how to drag objects on some of the questions during state testing.

Discover and learn more about how I start my students using Google Slides at the beginning of the year. Then download the Get to Know Me Google Slides Template!

Let’s Talk Ergonomics during State Testing

As teachers, it’s not like we can order the best, most comfortable chairs for our classroom.  We make do with whatever furniture is given to us.  Most of the time it’s a hard plastic chair or maybe even an old wooden chair.  Sitting on one of those for at least an hour can make one stiff and tired.  It is important to take frequent stretch breaks when feeling tired or stiff.

Ergonomic considerations

During state testing, allow students to stand up and quietly stretch behind their chairs without bothering anyone around.  Model this, practice it and enforce it.  That way, during state testing students, can monitor themselves if they are getting tired.

I would also recommend every 30 minutes of state testing, the entire group stand up and take a brain break for 5 minutes.  The California state test logs off a student automatically after 20 minutes of pausing.  The test saves work, but students will NOT be able to go back to previous questions if they are logged out.   So, keep all breaks to less than 20 minutes.

Taking stretch breaks during testing

Keyboard Skills? Do They Matter During State Testing?

By the way, yes students do need to learn to keyboard.  But I have concluded after many, many years of trying to teach third-graders keyboarding skills, it’s a lot of effort for little payoff. Eight and nine-year-old hands can barely reach the keys when they place their hands on the home keys.

They do not have sufficient coordination to look away from the keys as they type.  Since the tests are untimed, what does it matter how much time they take to type?  Let them hunt and peck for now, and eventually, they will learn the keyboard to become real typists.

What about keyboading?

However, do teach them the keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, etc.!

Here’s a FREEBIE you can use with your students to remind them of the keyboard shortcuts.

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Let’s Talk Test Format

With the advent of online state testing, new ways of asking questions in unfamiliar formats can throw students off completely.  Usually, on paper and pencil tests, students have questions that are either multiple-choice, true or false, fill in blanks, matching or short or long written responses.

State tests confuse students with some of the formats used.  State tests use drop-down menus, object dragging, or selecting tools for math symbols.

We also want students to understand that test-taking strategies that they used on paper and pencil tests can transfer to online tests.  On paper, students can use the process of elimination to cross out incorrect answers on a multiple-choice question.  On a computer, they would use the strike-through tool to cross out incorrect answers.  The process of elimination is a crossover strategy!

Use Google Forms as a way to prepare students for different types of state testing questions

Drop Down Menus and Split Screens

Drop-down menus for choosing an answer can sometimes be confusing to students.  Now, they’ve probably encountered these types of menus before, but I’ve noticed something rather curious. Sometimes in a drop-down menu, not all answers are displayed at once. It may require the user to scroll within the drop-down menu to see more choices.  Sometimes, students only choose answers from what is displayed because they don’t notice all the choices!  Teach students to notice if the menu has a scroll feature.

Tests presented in a booklet have the passage first with the questions following below it or on the facing page.  The screen on an online state testing is usually a split-screen.  Teach them how to adjust the split-screen to see the entire text or to focus on the questions.

If you want to practice working with split screens, there are some nifty add-on extensions for Chrome. One is Split Screen, but it doesn’t always work with every page.  I believe a better one is Tab Resize which essentially lets you have two or more tabs open simultaneously next to each other as separate screens.

Practice with split screen extensions

Practice with Similar Types of Question Formats Using Google Forms or KAMI

It is not technically a split-screen, but it has the same effect.  For example, I can upload a PDF with a passage to Google Classroom.  On one screen the students can open the PDF with Kami so they can highlight and annotate. On the other screen, students can open a Google Form that I have prepared with questions regarding the passage.

With Google Forms, I can simulate some of the test formats with drop-down menus, checkboxes for multiple-choice questions with more than one response, fill in tables or even short responses.  In fact, my grade level is now going to start giving more and more of our classroom assessments using Google Forms, Google Slides or web-based exams such as on  With the assessment window now just 2 months away, now is the time to begin switching to using online assessment instruments, which we are doing.

Let’s Talk Note-taking during State Testing

Students encounter mostly written fiction or non-fiction content to read on the screen.  They can use test tools like the highlighter to highlight parts for use later on with answering questions.  On the SBAC, there is also a NOTEPAD tool for students to take notes on questions.

But online state testing also includes audio or video sources as well!  A student might have to listen to an audio presentation and use it to answer a multitude of questions.  Teach students to take notes on the audio, too!  If it were a text passage, it would be easier for the student to go back to the text and find answers.

Their first instinct is to just listen to the audio like was music on the radio or watch a video as if they were watching TV at home.  Instead, students should recognize an audio or video source as just another passage that must be used to answer questions.

But first, students need to know how to use the controls to play, advance, rewind and stop audio or video. Teach them to use the time index as well so they can reference sections if they need to go back and hear something over again.

Teach students to use the media controls for controlling video and sound

Do You Use Videos Consistently During the Year?

Since the beginning of school, my students have used video as a learning tool.  I usually embed links to videos in the Interactive Digital Notebook.  I’ve taught my students how to take video notes so that they can use the notes to answer questions or compose a paragraph to summarize the video.

My school also subscribes to the Scholastic News and with the digital version, there are related videos that you can use to practice this skill.  Also, with the Scholastic News, there’s an option for the text to be read aloud.  I use that too, to simulate an audio passage for them to take notes.

Another tool which is an excellent way to have students practice with video or audio, is  I recently discovered this site and even blogged about it HERE recently.  Essentially, pick a video and add questions for students to answer at specified points along the video!  Very easy to set up and use.

Let’s Talk About Organizing Thoughts

Reading is understanding or comprehending.  Our mind wants to make sense of what we read and organize it in a way that helps us understand and remember.  I teach my students to make very simple graphic organizers that they can use to answer questions about a text or to use as a prewriting tool for writing tasks.

For writing a narrative, simple boxes with arrows to show sequence is the way to go.  Students use the first box as the first paragraph to introduce the setting, characters, and problem.  The next three boxes are for three key events that occurred because the character acted in a certain way (character traits).  This becomes the second paragraph.  The last box is the resolution or end of the story and is the last paragraph.

Consistent use of graphic organizers

For writing an informative piece, I teach my students to use the house metaphor to state your main idea/topic sentence as the roof and pillars that show supporting details while the floor is the concluding sentence.

For opinion, the students just remember the acronym OREO.  O is for stating your opinion on the topic.  R is a reason that supports your opinion.  E is for evidence to illustrate or explain your reason.  Students must give at least three reasons for supporting evidence.  Finally, the last O is for restating your opinion.  I actually tried this strategy with an online organizer.  You can see it here!

Using the RACE Strategy All Year Long

For short constructed responses, my students have learned and been using the RACE strategy since the beginning of the school year.  R is for restating the question.  A is for answering the question by making an inference or drawing a conclusion.  C is for citing evidence from the passage, video or audio that supports your answer. E is for further explaining or giving an example of the evidence.  By following this strategy, students can give well developed constructed responses.  If you look at the SBAC Scoring Guide, you will see that this strategy does help students with getting a better score.

Let’s Talk Motivation and Test Submission

In my past experiences with state testing, it has usually taken two days for the ELA test, two days for the ELA Performance Task, two days for the Math test and two days for the Math Performance Task.  This is working about one and a half hours a day on each part.  These are just averages.  Some kids will need more time.  So how do we keep them motivated to do their best?

Keep students motivated

How about a cheer!  Put up motivating posters around your school!  Use a ClassDojo message to parents to encourage their children to do their best each day of testing!  How about a class reward of free play during the day for a great effort and concentration!  Give out high fives! Hand out Brag Tags after a testing session to reward effort and concentration!  Every class is different, so you will have to find what is motivating to your students.

On the California State Test, students review flagged questions before submitting them.  They can only review questions that they’ve worked on during that testing period. If they have paused the test along the way, they will not be able to review the previous session questions.  It can be overwhelming and discouraging to have to review all answers AGAIN, after concentrating so hard to take the test.

So I suggest we train our students to take a break before reviewing. Then have them only review a few at a time, take another break and continue.  Now that can vary depending on the student.  Some can handle reviewing all of them, while others may need encouragement to not just blow it off!

What kinds of test preparation do you do for online state testing?  Please share below in the comments!

Don’t Go Yet!

Are you new to the 1:1 classroom setting? Then you’ll want to read my Valuable Tips for the 1:1 Classroom.

Check out how I use Google Classroom to present at Back to School Night for Parents.

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Get Your Students Ready for Online State Testing!
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