I am currently working with a small group of students who have been unable to pass the Living Environment Regents. Their problems range from difficulty with vocabulary, low self esteem, etc. I guess I am asking if anyone has any tried and true methods to help students who have real difficulty taking standardized tests?
I have some students who have a stress ball of some sort which they bring to any formal examinations and man, do they work those things while they're testing! It does seem to alleviate some of the most severe test anxiety, though. With some students, I've occasionally done a brief oral exam before the written version (perhaps before school or during lunch or a study hall period) to kind of get the worst of the nerves out of the way. This is a real problem for some, and the ideas above are great for minimizing the idea that these tests are the beginning and end of life as we know it--which is often how it seems to them. On a note of encouragement, one of my students who had some of the worst test anxiety I've seen is now in his second year of law school and I could not be more proud of him. Gives me a chance to encourage others.
Is it possible to teach them what they need to know (for the test and for life) without placing so much emphasis on the test? I try to make my students mindful of mandated testing requirements by just throwing it out as one reason for what we're doing from time to time. Also, I try to reinforce, on a daily or bi-daily basis with my students that I believe in them, and they need to believe in themselves. I then try to develop learning opportunties that allow them to engage in growth of knoweldge which seems to increase their esteem.
I guess one way to think through this issue would be to forget the test initially and start trying to tackle the root causes of the problem - perhaps focusing on low self esteem, and work on improving that. If you can allow such students a taste of success in whatever area they are able to succeed in, that will hopefully allow them to think they can succeed in other areas. Of course, making the curriculum relevant to their lives in anyway possible is also vital.
One of the best ways to get students to perform better is to improve the culture of the club or class so that they can see the benefits of doing well for themselves. If they can't, there is no matter how much you can help them, they just can't be helped. Spend some time with them to get to know them and ask them their own questions about how they learn.