Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Enlisting Parents to Help Motivate Students for State Testing: A Success Story

I cried in school today, but it's OK. They weren't tears of anger about the certification test I had to take in order to be able to administer the PA state test, or tears of frustration over the glitches with the SMART Response remotes that I so desperately want to use with my class, but just can't figure out. They were actually tears of happiness. The good kind that come out of nowhere and just have to be shed.

Today, we started the Writing portion of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. I recently wrote a post about my plans for sustaining my students' motivation for learning as state testing was approaching. You can read the post HERE. Reading that post will probably help you understand this one better.

Before testing started this morning, I gave the kids their bottles of "Secret Stuff", and we had a small toast. The kids LOVED the special water bottles. They totally "got" the extended metaphor yesterday when I showed them the locker room scene from "Space Jam"so they understood the symbolism behind the labels. One little girl even crossed out "Room 202's" and wrote her name on the label. I KNEW she was ready to tackle the test.

Then we passed out the "PSSA Survival Kits" that the parents sent in. (I got that name from a bag that one of the parents sent in, and I love it!) I am thrilled to report that the "kits" accomplished everything I hoped they would - and more. I am blessed with fabulous students who come from equally wonderful homes. I was not surprised that the children's parents responded to my request for notes of encouragement and healthy treats with thoughtfulness and enthusiasm, but I was blown away by the impact that the notes and the letters had on the kids.

As the ruffling from the tearing open of the goodie bags slowly faded, you could hear a pin drop in our classroom as the children opened their notes and read them to themselves. Once everybody had digested the words of support and encouragement from home, a murmur slowly spread around the room, gradually increasing in volume and intensity. The children were so eager to share all the nice things their families had written to/about them. They just couldn't wait to point out phrases and sentiments from their letters to anybody who would listen.

As I moved from desk to desk listening attentively to each child share his or her comments, I could feel the lump rising in my throat, and the tears welling up in my eyes. By the time I got to the desk of a student who showed me two eloquently written letters from his teenaged brothers, the tears were flowing freely.

For a few minutes, I was able to ignore the sheets draped around the classroom covering up all the anchor charts and instructional aids we use to help us learn when we are NOT testing. I was able forget about the intense pressure of the countdown to the 15 remaining class days before reading and math testing starts. I looked around the room, and I felt GOOD. Instead of being afraid of failing, my students were relaxed and happy. They were sitting up tall, and there was a look of confidence in their eyes.

As I left my classroom, as I am mandated to do by the state of Pennsylvania, to administer the test to another class, I felt a total sense of satisfaction and contentment. I love knowing that I was able to help my students believe in themselves. I know that it meant a lot to them that we started testing on such a positive note, and I am so glad I took the time to focus on THEM instead of the TEST when it really mattered.

It didn't hurt that I opened this email when I got home from work: "Mrs. Schwab, I just wanted to send you a thank you note. Elijah said his notes of encouragement brought tears to his eyes. He said he thinks he did better on today's test because of our support...And we have you to thank...so thank you for being thoughtful and motivating us to inspire our children...YOU ARE THE BEST!!!!"

I told the kids to keep their notes in school so they can reread them each morning of testing. I suggested they refill their "Secret Stuff" and bring it back to school. There are more nutritious snacks in their bags for the rest of the week. Their PSSA Survival Kits are well-stocked. Now we just have to get through testing so we can get back to what we are supposed to be doing in school - learning and growing.

What will you be doing to make sure your students feel confident and ready to tackle their state assessments?


  1. I also blogged about the dreaded writing PSSAs today! I wish I had the same positive attitude about it that you have! I was able to stay positive in front of the kids, but that's my limit with it! Tomorrow I'll try harder to look at and appreciate those good things we share that you mentioned in your post!

    Just 2 more days of it until we can return to real life!

    Sweet Rhyme – Pure Reason

  2. Nick. I despise standardized testing. The emphasis that is placed on it and the implications of the restrictions placed on us by the state infuriate me. Sometimes, I let it get the better of me. Then, I take a deep breathe and remind myself why I do this job-the kids! Shifting the focus back to them always puts my perspective back in place. Good luck with the next two days and the following two weeks of math and reading. We WILL get through it :)

  3. What a great idea, we start our state writing test next week. I know your kids were confident. It made me Our state writing test is next week, I am going to try to do something like this. I know your students will be successful.

  4. Love this idea! I'm new to the testing grades and I think I'm going to borrow and adapt your idea for our EOGs. Thanks so much for sharing. I'm now your newest follower! :)

    ~Amanda Elementary Teacher Files 

  5. What a great way to build a partnership with the parents!

  6. Thanks for the comment on my blog. I like how you give the students survival kits. Cute idea!