March not only brings warmer weather, longer days, and the hope of springtime, it also marks a season of tests for many school-aged children. Be it state testing, standardized testing, annual assessments or the like, students are typically evaluated in the major academic disciplines in March and April of each year.
Some students sail through these types of tests without thinking twice about them, while others labor and stress throughout the process. Test anxiety or extreme nervousness and lack of self-confidence can become a hindrance to test performance. Students can have memory lapses and forget what they knew just moments before the test began.
Providing support to our kids during standardized testing can take many shapes and forms. We can have conversations at home with our kids about what testing is and how and when it takes place; providing them a simple understanding of such tests may help to empower them to face testing with confidence. We can also provide our kids with a healthy framework for understanding why they take standardized tests and how the results are used to help them continue learning and growing in the future.
What is a standardized test?
There are essentially two types of standardized tests: proficiency and achievement.
Proficiency begins with a set of pre-determined content criteria, and the test at the end determines whether or not the student has mastered that content (like state tests).
Achievement tests (such as the TerraNova, SAT, Iowa) do not have a pre-determined set of content objectives, but rather they measure students’ knowledge and ability and compare it to sample groups to determine how individuals and groups compare to the sample (usually called a “norming” group). The norming process is usually done before the test is published and distributed, and tests are often re-normed on a regular basis.
While it likely will not settle any of your child's pre-testing jitters to discuss norming groups or the difference between proficiency and achievement, having this knowledge as parents may help us send the right messages to our kids about testing as a whole.
One thing that your child might take comfort in understanding is this: achievement tests are, for all intents and purposes, impossible to prepare for apart from being engaged daily with what takes place in the classroom and at home. Children simply take these tests and the results give us (parents, educators, administrators) a snapshot of a child’s academic progress (see the last section for more on this perspective).
Why take standardized tests?
Standardized tests help students, parents, teachers, and schools verify whether or not students are learning and growing as they ought. This helps monitor progress, but it also assists decision-makers when children struggle to learn. Standardized tests dive into the work of a student and allow parents and educators to monitor where a student excels and where learning is a struggle. Testing data is also helpful when it is grouped together for a teacher, a grade, or a school, because the results indicate whether or not the overall group met its mission of educating the students in total.
Accurately framing the true purpose of standardized tests may help our kids face testing with confidence. In addition to positive conversations about testing with our kids, there are many practical ways we as parents can support them when it comes to testing.
Ways Students Can Be Well-Prepared for Test Day
The following are good habits to practice every day of the school year, but they are especially important to implement around testing days. Whatever healthy routine your family already has in place, stick to it. This goes a long way in curbing anxiety and keeping things predictable for your student. Consider the following suggestions for test days:
- Organize belongings the night before
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Bring two sharpened #2 pencils
- Bring a water bottle
- Plan to leave 15 minutes earlier than usual if the test begins in the morning
Helpful Tips for Students During Tests
Your child has likely heard all of these tips and instructions countless times in class before, but reinforcement at home is helpful!
- Keep a positive attitude during the test and try to stay relaxed
- Skim through the test to get an idea of how long to spend on each question
- Do the easiest problems first--this helps build confidence
- If it is a standardized test, answer all the questions. There is no penalty for wrong answers. Try to eliminate one or more of the choices.
- Ask the teacher for clarification if the directions are difficult to understand
- Read the entire question carefully--don’t make assumptions instead of reading
- Write neatly
- Don’t worry about those who finish early
- Check over answers
Putting Test Results into Perspective
While standardized testing results offer valuable insight into student growth and serve to inform curriculum development, it is critically important for students and parents to maintain a healthy perspective on these test scores. Standardized testing provides a snapshot of a very narrow slice of student growth. It does not measure a student's physical, emotional, spiritual or aesthetic development. Keeping this in mind helps to temper unrealistic expectations based on academic testing performance and can serve as an encouragement for parents and students at all levels. It also serves as a reminder of how important the day-to-day teacher-student interactions, observations, and assessments are in providing a more holistic view of student growth in mind, body, and spirit.
As parents, we have the privilege of helping our children navigate all of life's circumstances, including moments like testing days that may feel stressful. Helping our kids prepare for test days and encouraging them to follow best testing practices like the ones mentioned above will help them through these days, but ultimately what matters most is providing them love and support through it all. Pray with your child before they leave for the day and let them know you love them!