Help for Mandatory Testing
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Help for Mandatory Testing

While grownups debate the value of mandatory tests, most kids still have to take them. Here's how to help.

Intro

Since 48 states in this country require students to take standardized tests, chances are your child has been -- or will be -- faced with exam day. Controversy over the value and implementation of standardized tests in schools is about as widespread as the tests themselves. Many educators and parents question how emphasis on standardized testing will affect the quality of education. In fact, educators in the New York public school system fear that the new tests would spend valuable class time preparing students, keep teachers from the classrooms in order to grade tests, and change the curricula to "teach to the test."

Recently, parents in Scarsdale, New York organized a boycott of the standardized tests given to all eighth graders in the state. On the day of the science tests, only 95 of 290 students arrived at school to take the test. The parents are opposed to all students in the state being assessed by the same test, and instead believe that each school district should determine how to assess students' progress.

In its 2000-2001 Resolutions, the National Education Association voiced its opinion that, "standardized tests should only be used to improve the quality of education and instruction for students." The groups states that it opposes the use of testing when:

  • Used as the criterion for the reduction or withholding of any educational funding
  • Results are used to compare students, teachers, programs, schools, communities and states
  • Used as a single criterion for high-stakes decision making
  • They do not match the developmental levels or language proficiency of the student
  • Student scores are used to evaluate teachers or to determine compensation or employment status
  • Programs are specifically designed to teach to the test
  • Testing programs or tests limit or supplant instructional time

Other experts have concerns as well. "The introduction of tests too early and too vigorously does more harm than good," says LHJ.com contributor Ava Siegler, Ph.D., a child psychologist and director of the Child, Adolescent, and Family Institute in New York City.

Most kids experience anxiety about tests, and although anxiety isn't always bad, according to Dr. Siegler, too much is likely to hinder a child's performance, particularly when he is required to take what are known as "high-stakes tests" -- tests that kids are required to pass in order to advance to the next grade or graduate. Another drawback: "Pressure compromises the sanctuary of childhood," says Dr. Siegler.

"Studies show that anxiety works like a bell curve," she explains. Children at either end of the anxiety extreme yield the poorest results. That means that children experiencing too much anxiety, as well as those who feel totally carefree about the testing, are the most likely too receive the lowest scores.

How to help your child

How to help your child

So what can you do to help your child prepare for -- and do her best on -- school tests? Dr. Siegler offers this advice:

Don't become too invested in the testing

Many parents become more competitive and invested in the test results than their child. This response is likely to create unnecessary stress for the parents and add to the stress their child is already feeling. Remember parents: your child's test results are not a reflection of your parenting abilities.

Know your child

Take your child's personality and temperament into account, and learn how to work with them. Discuss your child's fears and other feelings about test-taking and try to reassure her. Help her understand that the test should be taken seriously, but that you will be proud of her regardless of the results.

Watch what you say

Send your child off with the idea that all you expect is for him to do his best. It's important to realize that phrases such as "You're going to ace that test," or "I know you'll get an A" actually add pressure and increase a child's anxiety.

Be sure your child has no undetected learning disabilities

An undetected learning disability could be a possible cause for poor test results. Learning disabilities are usually detected by 8 to 10 years of age, so again, know your child. If you have concerns, discuss them with your child's teacher.

Make sure your child is prepared

You can help your child get ready by going over homework together, or supplying him with practice questions. The more prepared your child feels, the more confident he will be.

Have your child get a good night's sleep and eat a healthy breakfast

See to it that your child is well rested on test day and doesn't leave the house on an empty stomach. A protein-based breakfast is best because it will provide your child with sustained energy. Give her protein-enriched cereal, scrambled eggs or even a peanut butter sandwich before an important test.--Annemarie Finello

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