Standardized tests: Now that the No Child Left Behind Act federally mandates and regulates state testing for elementary- and middle-schoolers, standardized tests play a major role in today's schooling. Your child may take one or more standardized tests each year and her teacher may devote a significant amount of class time to preparation exercises. Several states administer "high stakes" tests, which can have a significant impact on school assessment and funding, determine your child's class placement, or even prevent grade promotion. No matter how you feel about this controversial assessment tool, it's important that your child do her best.
Standardized tests: What do they measure?
Providing a yardstick for educators to evaluate student- and school-performance across state standards, the tests generally fall into one of two categories. Achievement tests measure subject-specific knowledge, while Aptitude tests predict your child's ability to learn by measuring his mastery of school-success skills, such as reasoning or problem-solving. These tests can provide you and his teacher with insight into his progress and identify areas for improvement, as well help schools and districts decide where they need to focus more attention.
Standardized tests: What are their limitations?
While testing companies strive to create effective evaluation tools, several factors can affect your child's performance. The conditions in the testing room, how well the school curriculum fits the material, whether she had a good night's sleep, and her test-taking ability can all affect her score. As a result, you may see inconsistencies between her grades and test scores. It's best not to place too much emphasis on a single test result.
Standardized tests: How can you help your child prepare?
Teachers tell us that successful test-takers tend to be students with good attendance, homework, and study habits; therefore, your daily assistance with homework and attitude toward school have the biggest impact on your child's performance. However, there are key ways you can develop his test-taking ability.
- Optimize brain power.
Teachers say the students who struggle the most on testing days are the ones who didn't have enough sleep or a good breakfast the day of the test. Also, students who are physically or mentally unprepared often encounter problems. Make sure she has every tool she needs — pencils, an eraser, paper, a calculator, etc. laid out the night before, as well as any preliminary paperwork filled out, if possible. If she isn't feeling well on the test day, it's better to keep her home and let her make up the test later rather than risk poor performance.
- Encourage good study habits and challenge critical-thinking skills.
Reviewing test-taking strategies is important, but monitoring overall academic progress and staying in good communication with the teacher will help you ward off potential problems. Good reading skills factor heavily in a timed test, so encourage reading (consider magazines, newspapers, or even comic books if he shies away from books) as much as possible. Testing also measures critical-thinking ability, so ask him to discuss ideas or voice his opinion often to stimulate these thought processes.
- Know what to expect.
Most teachers will send home information about the test schedule and class preparation plans well before the test date. However, if you don't hear from your child's teacher you should contact her and find out:
- What is the name of the test and what will it measure?
- What's the format? (multiple choice, essay, short answer, etc.)
- How will the class prepare in school?
- How is it scored? Will students be penalized for incorrect answers or should they guess randomly when stumped on a question?
- When will you receive the results?
- What are the test's implications? Will it affect your child, school, or both?
- Are there any specific ways you can help your child prepare?
- Look at your child's past performance.
If she scored low in a particular area, you may want to provide her with exercises that reinforce that subject. Aim for activities that simulate the testing experience, such as multiple choice geometry questions or vocabulary practice that asks her to identify antonyms or synonyms. Workbooks geared towards standardized test preparation often provide these kind of exercises. Avoid drilling her in areas where she excels; you run the risk of boring her and her losing patience with testing.
- Provide practice opportunities.
You may be able to request sample or practice tests from your child's school or find them at the library. Be sure to time any practice tests (assuming the standardized test will be timed) so he's not surprised by time constraints on test day. Start practicing several weeks before the date and keep study sessions short. Setting small goals, such as learning five new words each session, will help him measure his progress and boost his confidence. Make sure he takes the night before the test off — cramming can increase his stress level.
- Relax and remain positive.
The best test-takers are confident, committed, and at ease. Even if you are nervous about her performance, be wary of transferring that concern to your child. You never know, some kids actually enjoy tests! If she is likely to get nervous, practice a few relaxation techniques, such as counting from one to ten or taking deep breaths, which can help her relieve tension during the test.
Standardized tests: How do you interpret the results?
Because assessment varies from test to test, it would be impossible to include all the terms you may encounter here. However, the scores should be accompanied with information to help you interpret them. Don't hesitate to contact your child's teacher if you have questions or need help understanding the results. You could also talk to the PTA or school administrator about inviting a testing expert to host an information session for parents.
What can you do if you have concerns about the test or testing situation?
First, you should discuss the problem with your child's teacher and/or school administrator. However, if you're not satisfied with the outcome, there are few organizations that monitor testing. Your local PTA is a great place to start, and you can also find information from The National Center for Fair & Open Testing or the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation.