Motivating Students to Test their Best This Spring


A MiddleWeb Blog

Ahh, testing season! Time for testing pep rallies, last minute reviewing, and phone calls and letters home describing how important testing is and that students should get a good night sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and arrive at school on time each day.

And of course, let’s not forget the high levels of anxiety that we all experience as the official testing window approaches.

Testing season can leave all of us more exhausted and stressed than any other time of the school year. Couple the normal high stress levels that come with testing with new student retention laws and teacher value-added systems in my state – and those technology malfunctions (that never seem to happen during any other day of the year)  – and it is no wonder that teachers, administrators, and students feel overtaxed and are ready to let loose.

What made this year special

Yet, amid all the stress and organized chaos that comes with state testing, there are bright moments that make everyone smile.

This year, instead of a traditional pep rally, our school decided to create dress-up days for teachers. Each day was a different theme – sports, western, nerdy, etc. Our student leadership team created signs with words of encouragement, chose motivating music tied to the theme to be played during the morning car and bus drop off with student leaders and staff dancing and singing as we welcomed our students to school each day.

In addition, our wonderful principal bought treats for students for after testing that we put on a cart we affectionately called the “Whoot Whoot Wagon.” We delivered these treats to each classroom every day, asking the teachers if their students had “worked hard.” Students were happy to see us coming and were excited to see what the new treat would be each day.

Each class in our non-testing grades adopted a class in a testing grade, creating songs and chants of encouragement that they sang when they visited each day prior to testing, lining classroom doors and the hallways with little signs of encouragement and providing small treats like peppermints and gummy bears that students could enjoy between testing sessions.

Countering the challenges with love

Our whole school got involved in testing, and it was perhaps one of the best testing environments I have ever experienced in my 16 years in education. Our students felt loved and encouraged. Several came up to us in the hallways to tell us how hard they worked because so many people were rooting for them.

While we won’t know if there is a quantitative data payoff until we get our results this summer, the qualitative data shows that students felt encouraged, empowered, and enabled to do well on this year’s test.

And to me, that’s a big deal. The pandemic left many academic and social gaps that we have to continue to close. Many of our students not only had the normal summer loss, but also experienced learning gaps when schools closed in early 2020.

This has left both students and teachers frustrated, exhausted, and deflated as they all worked hard to close those gaps. However, these gaps are not closing as quickly as we would like and knowing this makes the testing season much more stressful.

Helping students rise to the challenge

My suggestion: find a way to make testing fun. Get your whole school involved – non-testing grades, lunchroom, janitors, office staff, etc. It makes a difference. My current school is PK-6 but I taught and coached in middle school, and fun counts with kids there, too.

Look for ways to encourage students to do their best no matter what their best may be. And remember, our scores may not be as high as we would like them to be this year because of the loss of learning time experienced during the pandemic, but by our motivating our students to try their best through love and encouragement, they will rise to any challenge we set before them.


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Natasha M. McKnight

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