Help for Mandatory Testing

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

Continued on page 2:  How to help your child


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