Standardized tests are not Satan

No one really enjoys standardized tests, but what do we really know about them? Parents worry over the stress it induces in children. Teachers have had enough of overanxious administrators. Administrators complain the scores don’t accurately reflect learning. Kids loathe tests in general. However, can anyone recall the real reasons standardized tests are hated and feared throughout the country?

First of all, they aren’t all bad.

Tests, even the ones with awful acronyms, are valuable tools to measure a student’s knowledge and ability. If we are going to have standards, then we should have some measure of whether or not our students are meeting the standards. Makes sense, right? Standardized tests are one way to evaluate a student’s skills at the time they take it.

They are also ways to ensure certain subjects are taught and learned. Without checks and balances, some teachers wouldn’t keep to the curriculum. Others would buckle under pressure from parents to pass students who have not yet mastered such benchmarks.

However, certain improvements would create a more productive process. Here’s how:

Just about every educator can talk about biases in standardized tests. Therefore, such a test should not be the only method used for high-stakes assessment. Tests should be a tool, not the tool. If we combined them with other forms of measurement, such as portfolios like those used in higher education, we’d finally have a true understanding of our students and what they are learning.

Tests do not even come close to addressing learning for special needs students. These kids have average to above-average intelligence and do quite well in school. But, they do not test well and stand the chance of being held back.

Standardized tests do not address individual learning styles. Rarely does one size fit all – why then force our kids to live by this ridiculous rule?

Some teachers teach to the test. Period. This is the most common complaint and no way around it unless we use other measures when grading schools and determining where extra funds will go. Even textbooks refer to certain state tests and test-taking strategies while true learning is abandoned because too much is at stake.

We should not cancel yearly exams or standardized tests in general. These tests should simply be combined with other assessments that prove quite valuable. Our kids deserve better.

How to survive high-stakes testing

Let’s face it; tests and exams are magical moments that spread stress around like frat boys spread venereal warts. Educators, students, and parents deal with pressures that could make soldiers in Libya feel nervous.

It’s everyone’s least favorite part of school, but like those gun rights’ activists, tests aren’t going away anytime soon.

As a teacher for eight years, I helped students and parents prepare for tests with tips that benefit everyone both at home and at school. Moms and dads are the most important key to their children’s success. Here’s what we can do to make test time less stressful and more productive.

    • Make sure kids get plenty of sleep. Children, preteens, and teenagers need at least eight hours of uninterrupted rest each night, and some need more. So bang your drums or wife quietly. If kids are cranky, crying, or missing relatively easy homework questions, try putting them to bed earlier than normal. It works.
    • Prepare a good breakfast each morning. No sugar-coated cereals or soda. Try eggs with toast or oatmeal with raisins and always include some fruit. Coffee is unacceptable for anyone under the age of eighteen. Kids should discover their jittery, neurotic side like everyone else does – in college.
    • Pack nutritious snacks, like granola bars, yogurt tubes, and cheese sticks. Wholesome munchies help maintain energy throughout the school day. Get rid of anything with high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, and sodium benzoate. Yes, that includes Ding-Dongs.
    • Look over test review materials with children. Third grade math alone boggles the mind and most adults can’t answer standardized test questions, so if the work is a bit above your skill level, encourage the kids to explain it or request practice sheets with answer keys.
    • Plan stress-free after-school activities. Postpone Mandarin Chinese lessons for at least a week. Your kids are exhausted.
    • Don’t dwell on The Test. Find something else to talk about at night, even if it’s the Duggars.
    • Schedule book-reading for half an hour before bedtime. This is a great way to unwind and raise reading levels at the same time.
    • Be supportive. Give words of encouragement rather than the usual ironic detachment sprinkled with insults or name-calling.
    • Explain that tests are important, but avoid overemphasizing results because this can often backfire, stressing out young people and making them more impossible to live with than normal.
    • Encourage regular school attendance so that learning is constantly reinforced. A stable household, healthy diet and regular exercise will help keep sick days to a minimum.
    • Assist with regular homework as well. Assignments done outside school are shown to increase comprehension.
    • Develop a friendly relationship with teachers and meet with them to discuss issues and concerns.
    • Ask teachers for suggestions, activities, and online resources for other ways to support learning at home.
    • Stay on top of grades, assignments, and test schedules. Most of this information is posted online in school forums and websites. Those chat rooms can wait.
    • Take kids to school, or the bus stop, consistently and on time. And preferably not in a bathrobe.
    • Supervise wardrobe choices and provide comfortable, appropriate clothing instead of porn star outfits.
    • If your children wear hearing aids or glasses, remind them to use these throughout the testing sessions. Self-advocacy is an important characteristic to develop in young people. Instruct them to request any and all learning-plan accommodations.

Students themselves should practice good test-taking strategies like deep breaths before each session, communicating if directions are hard to understand, and reading each problem and choice carefully. Encourage them to skip over extremely difficult questions and go back after easier questions are answered. When the test is finished, check everything one more time.

Have a great school year everyone.