Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Navigating Standardized Tests: Helping your kiddo thrive

In my last post I lamented my woes of administering standardized tests to my students.  Some of you may have thought, “Well, I took the Iowa Assessments back in the day, and I survived…”  And that is true.  I too, took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills way back -old school- back- in the day.  But there is a difference now.  The difference is this: NCLB.

School districts are now required to supply scores, from a specific number of tests to their state’s Department of Education.  The state DOE requires this by assertion of NCLB.

So, back when you and I took THE Big Test, that was it. Done til next year. (Whew, I made it!)  Not now.  Oh, no. Far from it.

Students are required to take many tests.  These tests are above and beyond the weekly spelling tests or end of unit tests in math, reading, social studies, and science. Or the weekly progress monitoring (a test) of reading skills required by the Iowa Core. In my school district, students completed a battery of tests over the school year.

ü  NWEA Assessments were given 3 times a year.  One for math and one for reading. The tests, Measures of Academic Progress, although high-stakes, are not considered “standardized” because as the student ‘clicked’ his/her multiple choice answer on the computer, the program generated its next question for that particular student. The next question would be easier if the answer was incorrect and harder if the answer was correct.  Each session of this test took 60-90 minutes to complete.

ü  Iowa Assessments are given yearly, starting in first grade.  This test is a Standardized Test.  Which means that all kids, no matter what their background, get the exact same test.  (My first grade students always failed the vocabulary word ‘auditorium’… I often wondered how the kids whose schools had auds fared on this question.)

ü  CogAt or Cognitive Abilities Test was given to selected grades annually.  Third grade (my grade) was one of them.  Reasoning and problem solving skills were assessed.  School districts often use this test to aide in gifted education placement.  Really? Waste.Of.Time.  Hashtag: letsmakethekidstotallyhateschool

So, it’s a pretty bleak outlook- no matter what school district you’re in.  What’s a parent to do?  Well, the options are slim.  You could homeschool your child.  Maybe they could go to private school. Or to a charter school. But it’s still not a guarantee that these institutions won’t or don’t over test their students, too. And that’s what this blog is all about- how to deal with over testing. So, here is my advice.  It comes from years of observing families who are not only successful in school, but who thrive.

1.    Talk TO your child. Have conversations. Ask him/her what they think about something.  Tell them what you think.  In this hustle bustle world we live in, it’s easy to get stuck in a habit of just telling your child what to do and where to go.  (I have found that some of my best conversations with my kids have been in the car.)

2.    Unplug.  I know, it’s hard.  But do it.  For half an hour, make your phone wait.  You have more important things to do. Make sure the kiddos are unplugged to, otherwise you’ll be having a convo with a little brick wall.

3.    Number 3 actually goes with 1 and 2. Read to your kids. Have them read to you.  In the car, standing at the kitchen counter making dinner, while you’re waiting in line or at another siblings practice.  Stay off the phone for a little while and teach your child how to have a back-and-forth conversation.

That’s it.  Three easy steps (in theory) but oh, so hard to practice. I promise: If you talk to your kids about what they’re doing and thinking, they WILL be less stressed about school assessments.  And you will too.  Know why?  Because you’ll realize what a cool person your kid is.  No test can measure that.

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