featured image

Spring Testing: How to Prepare Your Special Education Students

profile image


June 11, 2024


Spring is here – the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the testing season for our students is in full effect! 

As an educator, you know how important it is to prepare your students for these assessments, especially for special education students who may require additional support and accommodations. 

Did you know that special education students are more likely to struggle with standardized tests than their general education peers? According to data from the Northwest Evaluation Association,  students with disabilities tend to achieve lower scores on average in reading and math assessments compared to non-disabled students – and show slower rates of growth. 

However, you shouldn’t let this discourage you or your students – with proper preparation and accommodations, your special education students can still achieve success on these tests!

So if you’re ready to turn spring testing into a breeze for your special education students, keep reading and let’s ace those tests together!

What Assessments Are Common in the Spring?

There are several types of assessments that your students may come up against in the spring. 

Aside from regular classroom exams that are used to determine grades and academic readiness (and may indicate whether a student is ready to progress to the next grade level), there are other standardized and screening tests that students may take as well.

For example, many students will take evaluation exams to determine the need for accommodations and special services in the spring. These might evaluate academic skills, life skills, or social skills, but generally don’t have any bearing on a student’s report card or whether they move up to the next grade. They’ll just be used to determine what (if any) additional support a student might need.

Lastly, many states require statewide testing in the spring – like the Regents exams in New York State. These tests are designed to assess students at different grade levels on their understanding of specific core subjects. 

Although the results of these tests are important, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that they don’t necessarily reflect the full picture of our students’ growth and progress.

How to Prepare Your Students for Testing

Tests  – the bane of every student’s existence. And as educators, we have the crucial (yet often unpleasant) task of preparing our students for these assessments. Here are some tips and tricks to help you do so successfully. 

1. Make Sure You (and They) Fully Understand Their Accommodations

First things first, make sure you and your students fully understand their accommodations. Accommodations are changes to the testing environment or the way the test is administered that are provided to help students with disabilities or other special needs access the test. 

Some common accommodations include extended time, verbal prompts, or extra breaks. Make sure you know what accommodations are available to your students and that they understand how to use them.

2. Communicate With Other Teachers and Paraprofessionals

Communication is key. Talk to other teachers and paraprofessionals to make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure everyone knows the date the test is being held, what skills are being tested, and the test format. 

And of course, again, don’t forget to talk about accommodations. Don’t just assume that everybody knows what’s supposed to happen – be as explicit and as thorough in your planning as possible. 

3. Start Reviewing Test-Taking Strategies Early and Often

One way to make the test-taking process a little less stressful for students is to start reviewing test-taking strategies as early as possible. Include this as part of your regular curriculum and try to embed it in your daily routine.

Many educators shy away from this, assuming it will just stress their students out to think about test-taking in advance. However, the reality is that by reviewing these strategies early on, you’ll be giving your students a sense of preparedness and confidence that can actually lower their anxiety levels come test day. 

So what exactly might these test-taking strategies entail? They can be anything from complex strategies like analyzing a question stem to eliminating answer choices or even not leaving questions blank. The point is – there are all kinds of strategies out there to help your students succeed on test day, but you’ll need to explicitly teach them if you want them to be used.

4. Try to Recreate the Actual Testing Environment 

Try to recreate the actual testing environment as much as possible. This means setting up the desks in rows, turning off any distractions (yes, that means no cell phones!), and even timing the practice tests to mimic the real thing. 

The more comfortable your students feel in this environment, the more likely they are to perform well.

5. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Testing can be stressful, no doubt about it. That’s why it’s important to teach your students some tried-and-true techniques for managing anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and autogenic training are all great options. 

Consider taking a few minutes at the start of class each day to practice these techniques – your students will thank you come test day!

6. Encourage Healthy Habits

Encourage healthy habits in your students always, but especially leading up to the tests. Getting a good night’s sleep and eating a healthy breakfast beforehand can make all the difference in their performance. 

And while we don’t want students snacking during the test itself, it might be a good idea to have some healthy snacks on hand just in case. You never know if a student will actually be able to eat breakfast the morning before a test (or a good dinner the night before), so whatever you can do to fill in the gaps, try to do it.

7. Explain Clearly What the Test Is and Why It’s Important

Often, kids may not see the significance of state testing if they don’t understand how it relates to their grades or graduation. That’s why it’s wise to provide a clear explanation of the purpose of the test. 

For instance, you could let them know that the results help teachers understand where they need to focus on for improvement and what subjects they are excelling in. You might also discuss how the scores will be used to compare student achievement at regional, state, and national levels.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Inject Some Humor

While it’s important to stress the significance of testing, it’s also important to avoid making it seem like the be-all and end-all of their academic success. Instead, try to avoid putting undue pressure on them by maintaining a casual and friendly tone while discussing testing.

A light-hearted approach can also alleviate some of the stress and pressure associated with taking tests. And at the end of the day, using humor can help students feel relaxed and motivated, which can lead to better results.

9. Add Sensory or Movement Breaks When Possible

Incorporating sensory and movement breaks is also an effective way to help students stay focused and engaged during the testing period. Sensory breaks can include activities such as deep breathing, yoga, or even a simple stretching routine to help students relax and refocus.

Movement breaks, such as working on a puzzle, coloring, or even a quick dance party will help get their blood flowing and energy levels up, which will make their brains work better and more efficiently.

10. Do Practice Tests

Another excellent way to prepare for the upcoming tests is to administer practice tests. The practice tests should be modeled after the real test to become a valuable tool for preparing students to complete the actual tests. 

A practice test will help students become familiar with the type of questions they will be asked and give them a better understanding of how the test is structured. It also allows them to identify their weak areas and work on improving them before the actual test day.

Final Thoughts

As we all know, standardized testing can be a stressful experience for many students – but it doesn’t have to be. By incorporating accommodations and modifications that meet the unique needs of special education students, we can level the playing field and give them the opportunity to shine.

Research has shown that a positive testing environment can lead to better outcomes, not just for students with disabilities but for all learners. In fact, research has shown that when students are given the accommodations they need – and the academic tools they need to succeed – they score significantly higher on standardized tests. 

We can’t deny that testing is a necessary part of our education system, but we can improve how we approach it. By focusing on equity, accessibility, and student-centered approaches, we can help all students feel empowered and confident during testing season.

In the end, it’s not about achieving a certain score or ranking. It’s about ensuring that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential and be successful in whatever path they choose. Let’s continue to prioritize the needs of our special education students – and create a more equitable and inclusive education system for all.

review image


a passionate special education teacher with [number] years of experience, uses her classroom knowledge to craft engaging stories that celebrate the unique strengths of all learners.