Helping Kids Face Standardized Testing with Peace and Courage

By Jessica Wolstenholm

My oldest daughter is in third grade. And in our state, third grade means standardized testing. And in every state, it seems, standardized testing means stress and panic and pressure — for teachers, kids, and parents alike.

Before this year I thought the scariest parts of spring were tornadoes and allergy attacks. Based on what I hear from other parents, though, standardized testing blows those things out of the water when it comes to our kids and their stress levels. But I don’t think testing season has to be the worst month of the year.

As parents, we can take steps to help our students face those bubble sheets (or computer programs, as my daughter informs me — apparently filling in bubbles with a number two pencil is old school!) with peace and courage.


1. Pray about it.

It might seem obvious, but before all the talking and studying and prepping and planning, we need to hit our knees. We need to pray for our kids and pray with our kids. We need to pray in the morning before they leave and at night before they go to bed.

Let’s pray for their minds to be sharp and their hearts to be calm, for their teachers to be steady and their studying to work.

Let’s pray that they keep everything in perspective, giving only the appropriate weight to these tests and remembering the priorities and values you’ve taught them.

Let’s pray that our kids have all the courage and none of the anxiety needed to do their best, and let’s pray that they trust the One who’s in control and sovereign over every day (not just test days).


2. Cover the basics.

Though it’s been a couple decades (or more, ahem!) since I took a standardized test, I still remember my mom’s strategy: hot cereal. Every time we had testing, she’d force-feed us oatmeal, cream of wheat, or grits. Every. Single. Time.

As an adult, I now understand that she was just trying to make sure we weren’t distracted by hunger. And I appreciate that, even if I still don’t love cream of wheat.

If you are normally an “eat a granola bar on the way out the door” family, you will get no judgment from me. I have one kid who loves breakfast but sleeps late and another kid who gets up early but hates eating breakfast. Believe me, I know the struggle of filling their tummies before sending them out into the world.

And don’t get me started on bedtime, which is never as early or uneventful as I hope and plan and promise myself!

But for the few days that my daughter is testing this month, I’ll be getting myself up early to make a filling, hot breakfast that she’ll eat (easier said than done since she’s the one who considers a handful of dry Cheerios a proper morning meal). We’ll start the bedtime routine earlier for those two weeks, and I might even break out that leftover bottle of lavender-scented bedtime baby lotion.

I’ve also signed up to take snacks to her class on one of the testing days. (Even if your child’s teacher doesn’t ask parents to bring snacks on testing days, you can send extra “brain food” in their lunch.)


3. Keep it simple.

I’m not sure any season is convenient for testing, and I understand the logic of waiting until kids have learned as much as possible before testing their knowledge. But springtime is such a busy season! With concerts and contests and recitals and championship games, many activities are wrapping up and showing off. And on top of that, late spring and early summer activities are already ramping up, at least around here. That’s a lot going on — and then we have to add testing?!

I say, as much as possible, keep your schedule as open and simple as you can for the weeks your student is taking standardized tests. Don’t plan extra outings or auditions; don’t sign up for new classes or lessons just yet. If you can, wait to begin new things until after testing is over. That way, your child can focus on testing and be better rested for his or her exams. Especially for the younger kids who haven’t done standardized testing before, starting anything else might just be too much for them to handle.

Many of my friends and family members are teachers, so I’ve heard a lot about the pressure these tests put on the people responsible for educating our kids. So a bonus tip? Pamper your child’s teacher a little bit during this season. No, you can’t single-handedly change department or district policy, and you also can’t enforce a bedtime or breathing techniques on a stressed-out teacher. But you can send her a Starbucks gift card, a chocolate bar, or even just a note thanking her for all her hard work.

Deep breaths, parents. We can do this. We can help our kids survive testing season — and even do it with the peace and courage God promises and offers us.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

Not as the world gives do I give to you.

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27