Q. My fourth grade daughter seems really stressed out about CSAPs. She says her school could get shut down if the students don’t do well. What can I do to help her not get so stressed about these tests?

A. There are several things you can do in the short term about Colorado Student Assessment Program-related stress. Here are some tips:

  • Test time at school is a great time for extra cuddle time at home.
  • Take time to talk and listen.  As you listen, you might tease out what else is going on in your daughter’s life that is causing stress.  Often because hyperbolic language is the norm, it’s hard to figure out what the real issue is. When your daughter comes home “freaking out” with stress talk, try to listen and not react negatively.  An angry or negative reaction by a parent often is internalized by a child.  They might feel the parent is mad at them. As you listen you might hear something your child is already doing to handle the stress; help them see that.sign language "I"
  • Have brain friendly snacks at the ready.  Now is the time to motivate the whole family to use those nutritious foods and drink ideas that you know will help everyone perform well. Get a few ideas from this EdNews Parent post.
  • Together practice some gentle stretching that your daughter can use to loosen tense shoulder and neck muscles all day long.
  • Greet your daughter with a sign language “I” to remind her of how “incredible” she is. I used to do that with some of my students.

Assessments are challenging.  There is a vulnerability to assessments.  The challenge I find in any assessment is to discover ways to use them for personal growth, for goal setting, for personal understanding and for understanding the world in which we live.  Initially, assessments are about a knot in the stomach.   They are about survival – in school, at a job, our sense of self.  Assessments are about performance.  Am I going to be proficient?  Am I going to get a raise or a promotion?

To the extent your child can begin to look outward I would encourage you to think about other possibilities that might come from the CSAP experience.  This is the 21st century; assessments are not going to disappear.

  • Set some individual learning goals and record those in a journal.  Let yourselves see that personal growth. Watching growth over time is empowering.

It has been said, “Study to remember and you will forget, study to understand and you will remember.”  This can be the opportunity to begin reflecting as a learner and doing so creates another good journal activity.  Doing journal work together is a great idea. Journals at our house are not diaries and they are only shared by permission.

Getting connected outside of school is a way to see a larger world, to know our contribution makes a difference. Yes, one test score matters to our school but so do 400 other scores.

Questions remain about test design

In our world of testing and accountability those who set the standards may not always understand what needs to be measured. It took years before the question about card catalogues was removed from CSAP testing. Some schools still had them but many schools didn’t and kids were clueless when it came to answering those questions.

I do believe that the test designers have the best of intentions.  They want accountability.  They just have this huge task.  Even though we say one size does not fit all, tests like the CSAP try to make it happen. Kids  might chuckle if they were to think about trying to make all the kids in one grade wear the same size T-shirt. How funny would that be. Now, think about designing a test to measure everyone at grade (blank) for the same skill. It gets very complicated.

Our learners need some help looking at what they do well as individuals and then doing it. We can help our kids verbalize this. We can help them see growth from year to year. We can help them connect to the world around them and learn who they are as learners in a wider context.

Rene Descartes said, “Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterward to solve other problems.”  It’s the 21st century. Stress is not going to go away.  Perhaps by engaging with our kids we can generate some learning rules like Descartes said that will help us solve other problems.