Helping Your Child with Standardized Tests

You can tell who is best at taking tests and going to school, but you can’t tell who the best people are.
—Barnaby Keeney, American University President

Whether your child is young or older, he or she will have to take standardized tests. Over the past few years, standardized tests have only increased in number, and there’s growing pressure on improving test scores. All this can create a stressful situation for your child, particularly if your child doesn’t do well on standardized tests. Here’s how to help.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Find out when standardized tests will be given. Some kids need preparation for these tests, and it’s easier to help them prepare when you know when the tests are scheduled.
    • Make test time a stress-free time. Avoid scheduling appointments and other activities during your child’s tests. Keep evenings relaxing and make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast in the morning.
    • Know your kids well. What do they think of standardized tests? How seriously do they take these tests? How well do they do?
    • Stay on top of the pressures your child’s teachers and schools are under. When teachers and administrators are stressed, it’s easy for them to put undue pressure on kids. Read more about how schools are changing in the book Straight Talk about Schools Today by Judy Molland.
    • Monitor your attitude about standardized tests. Some parents take them very seriously. Others are outraged that their kids have to take them. No matter how you feel about these tests, they are a requirement for your kids. It’s better when you give the message that standardized tests are important so that your kids take them seriously, but also emphasize to them that a test score does not determine their value.
    • Scholastic Parent provides helpful tips on helping your child with standardized tests.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Many childcare centers and preschools now have standardized tests and assessments for young children. These are to ensure your child is developing well and in a well-rounded way. Ask questions about these assessments and find out how you can help with your child’s healthy development.
    • If you think your childcare center or preschool gives too many assessments, consider enrolling your child elsewhere. Most of your child’s time should be spent in a stress-free environment where he can grow, play, and explore.
    • Do not be alarmed if your child-care center or preschool recommends that your child wait until age six to start kindergarten. This does not mean your child has failed. Instead, it means that your child will greatly benefit from another year of preschool. Rates of development vary in the early years, and needing more time before kindergarten does not predict learning problems later on.
    • If you have any concerns about the results of your child’s assessment, ask questions. Learn as much as you can about the assessment tool and your child. If you disagree with the assessment results, have your child reassessed elsewhere to see if you get a different result.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Standardized tests are now happening at the early grades, so don;t be surprised if your child is tested once she starts school. Most assessments are observational or oral for non-readers, but once children learn how to read, they are often assessed through simple written tests.
    • Pay attention to your child’s reaction to an assessment. If your child comes home upset, ask questions. If your child doesn’t articulate what happened, call the teacher right away to learn more.
    • Teach your child to take all aspects of school seriously. That includes learning in the classroom and taking tests.
    • Periodically incorporate test taking into your child’s homework routine. Standardized tests are timed tests, so once in a while time your child to see how many addition or multiplication problems he can do correctly within a certain amount of time. (Subtraction and division are more difficult, so don’t start with these.)
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • By this age, most kids are either getting used to standardized tests or now see them as a typical part of school. Keep tabs on your child’s attitude toward these tests and your child’s progress. What’s most important is to see that your child gradually does better on the tests.
    • Find out if your child’s school has practice tests. Some schools use these in the classrooms, and others make them available for parents, so always ask.
    • Remind your child that standardized tests are only one part of her education. The most important part is keeping her enthusiasm up to learn more. Grades, homework, projects, and papers also factor into her school success.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Your older teenager will face the big standardized tests: the PSAT, the PLAN, ACT, SAT, and SAT subject tests. All these are important for getting into college, so if your teenager is planning to go to college, encourage her to take these standardized tests seriously.
    • See if there are classes to prepare for standardized tests. Many schools and communities offer SAT and ACT prep courses. If yours doesn’t, you can still find books on the subject. Encourage your teenager to study beforehand, even if he tends to do well on standardized tests. Most teenagers get higher scores if they study first.
    • Many teenagers take the SAT or ACT more than once to raise their score. If your teenager isn’t happy with her score, suggest that she take the test again.
    • Be aware that school districts sometimes give other standardized tests for funding purposes that “don’t count” in terms of your teenager’s academics. Many teenagers don’t take these tests as seriously, which could hurt your school’s funding. Don’t put too much stress on your child, but do point out that it’s important for him to put forward his best effort.
  • Remind your teenager that a standardized test score is only one piece of the educational big picture. Grades matter. GPA matters. The quality of courses matter, and so do their extracurricular activities. Remember, too, that not all teenagers go on to a traditional four-year college. Consider your child’s unique personality and goals.

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