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Mastering Assessments: UDL Strategies for Student Success

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
November 3, 2023

Ah yes...standardized assessments. Regardless of their limitations, they are here to stay and students deserve to be prepared for them. So, what can UDL educators do? They can be upfront and honest about the true purpose of testing, teach students important test-taking strategies, and scaffold coping strategies so students are not anxious about test administration. Other than that, the best we can do is teach them the standards and keep our expectations high. If we teach them to think critically and help them learn the content and the methods outlined in the standards, they will be successful. We have to believe that.

We must be prepared to universally design our preparation for tests and assessments so our students can access them.

Many standardized assessments that students are required to take contain barriers that may prevent them from being successful. For example, many tests are now computer-based, timed, and require keyboarding skills and technological skills that may be obstacles for students. Although there are barriers, we must be prepared to universally design our preparation for these tests and other assessments so our students can access them. In short, we have to teach in an accessible way so students can succeed on an inaccessible test. Here are some of my fav strategies.

Strategies for Preparing Students for Test-Taking:  

  • Channel your SEL toolbox by fostering a space where students can discuss and share their test anxieties. Provide options for coping mechanisms like deep breathing exercises, neck rolls, or mini-breaks. My favorite breathing strategy is inspired by Brené Brown, who swears by square breathing! 
  • Teach students that they have the option to review questions before delving into the text, data sets, etc. It offers them a purpose for reading. I also used to encourage my students to write the questions in their own words on strap paper if it was helpful before starting to dive into the text - this is especially valuable for students who may struggle with reading stamina and would struggle to go back through the text multiple times.
  • Share prior samples of standardized tests as well as student work and any/all rubrics. By showing students what examiners look for, they can target their answers to task, purpose, and audience. I also created my own exemplars at different levels on the rubric and made them the test examiners. Now, tools like Chat GPT can create those exemplars for you, and students can determine where they are on the rubric and provide feedback on how to revise. 
  • With standardized tests, students won't have the luxury of pre-made graphic organizers or manipulatives. Teach them the art of crafting their own using scrap paper. This hands-on approach can help them visually map out and structure their thoughts. It also prevented me from having to make them graphic organizers!
  • Similar to graphic organizers, students can craft their own math manipulatives using torn paper. Think standardized testing confetti with a purpose.
  • Since many assessments are now computer-based, offer students lots of opportunities to practice their tech skills. From basic keyboarding games (my kids love Nitrotype) to navigating online interfaces, helping kids recognize the bells and whistles of the online test can be helpful. 
  • Teach students about the psychology of taking a multiple-choice test. Techniques like the process of elimination can help support students. One of my favorite activities is to teach students all about how test designers create high-quality multiple-choice questions. Then allow them to choose any text they want and try to create their own multiple-choice questions using the guidance shared in the lesson. Once completed, have students swap them, practice test-taking and peer-review the quality of the questions and answers. It is a blast!

Incorporating these strategies can make standardized tests less about navigating obstacles and more about student problem-solving as they share what they know. If you have any additional ideas, please write to us so we can add it to the list! 

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