Standardized tests right around the corner

March 27, 2012 | Posted in: Elementary, Middle Years

Middle school and elementary students in New York will again take standardized tests in English language arts and mathematics in April. The tests, given to students in grades 3-8, are designed to comply with the No Child Left Behind law of 2001. While schools plan well in advance for the test dates, students may not be thinking ahead, and preparing themselves to perform without anxiety and stress.

Standardized tests are given to ensure students meet the state learning standards in each subject area, and results are used to determine a school district’s performance. Parents receive a report that shows how your child scored, areas they are strong in and areas in which they need improvement. The state also issues a school report card each year that shows how your child’s school stacks up against other schools in the state.

Standardized tests are causing controversy this year, in part because they’ll be used for the first time as part of teachers’ performance evaluation. You can read more about how test scores are being used for teacher evaluations here:

Of concern for some parents is the extended time students will spend taking the tests. (The tests will each last three days–approximately three hours for each subject area. For third graders, that’s an increase of about a half-hour for English language arts and 70 minutes for math).

State education leaders say the extra time allows them to include experimental questions on this year’s tests. The questions will be used to help develop future ā€“ and, they say, stronger ā€“ tests. The experimental questions won’t count toward students’ scores, but critics say the extended test-taking time may cause more anxiety for some students. And, it comes at the expense of instructional time.

While the debate about standardized tests is ongoing, the reality is that your child will be taking these tests in a few weeks. How can you help him/her reduce test stress?

  • Talk about the importance of giving their best effort during the test. Mention the test to show you’re interested, but don’t dwell on it, something that can add stress to what your child may already be feeling.
  • Help your child get to bed on time the night before the test. Research shows well-rested students perform better.
  • Keep your routine as normal as possible. Changes to routine can make children feel unsettled.
  • Plan ahead to avoid conflicts on the morning of the test. For example, don’t schedule appointments for a test day. In addition to taking the test at a time other than with their peers, your child may experience additional stress related to classroom work that needs to be made up.

On the morning of the tests:

  • Get up early to avoid rushing and to ensure your child gets to school on time.
  • Have your child eat a healthy breakfast, but not a heavy one. Research shows students do better if they eat breakfast before taking tests.
  • Suggest your child dress comfortably on test days.
  • Be positive about the test. Acknowledge that it may be hard, but remind your child that doing his/her best is what counts.

After the test, ask your child his/her feelings about it. Allow them to talk about it and share their opinion about what was hard and what was easy. Discuss what your child learned from the test. In addition, understand if they simply don’t want to talk about it.

Thinking forward to next year’s test, communicate with your child on a regular basis about what they’re learning in school. Reviewing throughout the year builds a foundation for being able to show high achievement on tests.