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Standardized Testing: The G,B, & U Part II

By Debra Bell | March 29, 2011 | by Debra Bell, Testing

If you are required or decide to participate in standardized achievement testing, then here are tips for getting the most accurate results possible:

  1. Please see prior post that emphasizes the validity and reliability issues with these tests.  Even if you use all the tips that follow, your results are still not as accurate as your daily observations of your child’s achievement.
  2. Simulate the actual testing experience in advance.  Think of this as preparing for game day in the same way any athlete might.  You have to practice game conditions to improve your performance.  There are some test prep materials on the market that can help you do this.The best is Scoring High available from us and other homeschool suppliers. ( The publisher just changed policies, so you can expect prices to rise on this product shortly — you might want to get what you need soon.)  There are others as well, but Scoring High is test specific. In addition to practicing with test-like materials, leading up to the exam, get your kids comfortable with being timed.  You can turn this into a game by using a homeschool standard, such as Calculadder, to make this strategy fun.  On the actual exam, there is typically plenty of time for most kids to finish each test unless they are significantly below grade level.  The only exception to this rule is the math computation test.  This test’s specific purpose is to measure accuracy and speed.  Many of the standardized tests commonly given no longer include this exam because it isn’t really measuring something important ( and we have calculators for that now anyway) but some of the older versions still include it.  Students should know it is very common for most students to not finish that one test.  Keeping this in mind, it is important to talk with your children about not rushing through the questions and also the value of rechecking their work when they finish.  Accuracy is more important than speed.  And even though not finishing may hurt their overall score, when you read the report ( which I will explain how to do in the next post), you will be able to see that speed was the (minor) issue and not understanding ( a bigger issue).If possible, find out as much as you can about testing conditions in advance so you can prep for these.  If answers are to be gridded in on an answer sheet, this is a good task to practice with younger children.  You should also help kids understand how to keep their place on the answer sheet and in the test booklet.  Go over test-taking etiquette as well.  Students should not talk or ask the test administrator for help with answers.  They should be bold enough though to ask for clarification if they are confused by the instruction or if they can not find their place in the exam booklet.
  3. Find out all you can about the actual exam.  If you aren’t sure what types of questions are included on the sub-test, ask for the list of skills to be covered at each grade level.  This should be information that is made available to parents.  A common problem I find in testing is the terminology used on the math tests and the way problems are set up on the page can vary significantly from popular math textbooks in the homeschool community.  For example, a lot of younger children are confused when they are asked to solve a math problem that is set up horizontally ( i.e. 2 + 4 = ___) or if the answer is supplied and kids must figure out the missing addend ( e.g. there’s an example of a math term that can throw kids).  There is often more geometry on the math tests than elementary children are use to working with ( Saxon’s glaring weakness).
  4. Set the proper psychological tone for this event.  Tell your child testing is just one way you can get some helpful information about what they already know well and you no longer need to make them study; what they are starting to learn but could use some more practice with; and what you haven’t even taught them yet.  This is not a pass or fail situation, it is an information gathering event that isn’t as important as the work they do for you in school each day.  Be careful about how you talk about testing and the non-verbal cues you send ( are you stressed about this?).  Unfortunately, testing is a part of the American way of life, and learning how to manage these events and the stress they may produce is a part of growing up.  You want to lay a foundation so kids can do their best in a timed and often uncomfortable situation.  It’s like learning how to play your best game of basketball on game day instead of at practice.
  5. Kids should get a good night’s sleep the night before and shouldn’t have a  jam-packed schedule leading up to test day ( especially if the test does matter).  The morning of, a protein-rich breakfast is usually the best brain food for most kids.  Avoid sugars.  At testing, kids should also have energy bars and water or other quick boosters to deal with the exhaustion of long periods of concentration.  When breaks are given, kids should move around even if they don’t feel like it ( testing will make kids feel sluggish and they might not feel like leaving the room during the break, but they should.)
  6. Kids should have a watch or timer so they can manage their time.  They should have a ruler or straight edge to help them keep their place on the answer sheet.  They should have something interesting to read or do if they finish early ( doing something they find pleasurable will recharge their motivation).
  7. Finally, should they guess?  If the goal is accurate results, then kids should guess if they can make an educated guess.  Either their instincts say one answer is better than the others, or they are able to narrow the possibilities down to just two by eliminating choices they know are wrong.  Then they should go for it.  But random guessing and just filling in the circles because time is about to be called is going to compromise the results you get.  ( This advice is to be disregarded if the highest score possible is actually what you want – accurate or not.  I coach my AP students differently on this point.)

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