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In order to get students to perform at higher levels on state benchmark exams, it is important to first start with attitude. While many students with special needs want to perform well on exams, they basically give up before they start. I've seen many students practice the released items, and do fairly well in the relaxed atmosphere of the classroom, but only spend about five minutes on the same type of questions on the actual test day. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges to special educators is to keep students going through the whole process with their best work.
Self Talk and Motivation
This has to start with a belief in self. One of the things that special educators need to do is to increase self-esteem among students required to take the benchmark exams. Self-esteem is intrinsic. It cannot be forced upon someone. The person has to believe that they can perform at a higher level in order to do so. Educators can instill some of the basic principles of self-esteem, and thereby increase the students chances of success so that they do not give up before they start.
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Tips to Try
Here are some tips that might help increase self-esteem among students, thereby increasing the chances of successful state benchmarks:
1. Have students practice the benchmark tests (released items) a lot. But don't make it only about the test. Try to incorporate items from the tests into your regular lessons so that students think of it as just another homework assignment. Over time, students may begin to see the test released items as just another part of their assignments. It might even be a good idea not to tell them which items are test released items. In this way, they believe it is just a part of the regular course-work, and by the process of desensitization, they will get used to the challenge.
2. Put students into groups and have them compare answers with each other until they figure them out.
3. Use it as an extra credit assignment to increase motivation.
4. Offer rewards for higher performing students on benchmark practice tests.
5. Send progress reports to parents which show their progress over time, on focused benchmark released items. Brag on students who do exceptionally better than the last time.
6. Have students perform visualization techniques or other relaxation methods with the help of a counselor. Test anxiety is one of the major reasons people do poorly on tests.
7. Ask your administrators to hold assemblies recognizing students for improved benchmark scores.
8. Have a face-to-face conference with individual students. Explain to them that you only expect them to do their best, but that you will not expect any less than their best.
9. Have friendly class contest on individual released items to see who does the best.
10. Remind students to use their accommodations such as extended time, etc., as well as reference sheets and other tools allowed on the tests, reminding them that the test is not a race, and they should not just hurry through the test to get done.
Research shows that peer tutoring may also help special education students in increasing their confidence in their own abilities, and it also appears to be significant how high the level of confidence special educators feel that they are able to improve test scores among special needs kids.(1)
If you apply the tips from this article, you may start to see some improvements among the special ed students, and at the very least, increase their confidence in the ability to do better than they have done in the past.
- (1) Relationships Between Special Education Confidence, Knowledge, and Selected Demographics - http://www.jae-online.org/vol-50-no-2-2009/62-john-kessell-gary-j-wingenbach-a-david-lawver.html
- Intervention Strategies for Students at Risk - http://specialed.about.com/od/teacherchecklists/p/interventiontip.htm
- Strategies teachers use to help students increase their confidence - http://www.helium.com/items/1619056-tips-for-how-teachers-can-build-confidence-in-students