How to Get Students Ready for Standardized Tests
Helps kids approach standardized tests with confidence.
To be poised and ready for game day, a seasoned baseball player begins training for the play-offs months in advance. Training begins well before pre-season, and so does preparation for standardized tests — whether you are just beginning the process or vying for college admissions.
Since 2001, under the No Child Left Behind Act, every state is mandated to test students in mathematics and English language arts in grades 3-8 and 11. Each state in our region has its own standardized assessments —PSSA & Keystone Exams (the latter for a high school graduation requirement in 11th grade covering algebra I, literature and biology) in PA; Smarter and DCAS-Alt1 in DE; and PARCC in NJ.
“Standardized testing shouldn’t be this terrible thing that encompasses the student’s life until it’s over,” says math tutor Joyce Klughertz of Huntingdon Valley, PA. “It should be something like riding a bicycle; once you learn it, it’s just really easy.”
She believes that children will always be prepared for standardized tests if they read and practice math problems, ideally for 20 minutes daily, from the time they begin kindergarten until they finish their formal education.
“If students have been doing the same genre of problems repeatedly, when they take the Keystones, it’s easy because it feels like they are doing their homework,” says Klughertz, “and their anxiety level goes down.”
But how do you get children who struggle with math to do their best? Klughertz says that’s simple; just find easier problems online to solve repeatedly and build upon those successes.
“The key is to set reasonable goals for your child,” says Sonali Pandit, director of Kumon Math and Reading Center of Bear, DE, “and make sure that the challenge is appropriate for the child,” which a tutor or teacher can help with.
“Parents can reduce anxiety by breaking down what your child is learning in school into bite-size pieces to practice daily,” Pandit continues.
Research bears out that the best performance comes from having a moderate amount of anxiety, says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a Princeton, NJ, psychologist and co-author of Growing Friendships: A Kid’s Guide to Making and Keeping Friends.
“Also, if children feel anxious doing something new or challenging, they can think of that as getting their body ready and not as a sign that they can’t or shouldn’t do this,” Kennedy-Moore says.
She advises parents to be relaxed about the test: “Children look to pivotal adults in their life to ask, ‘Should I be scared here?’”
Kathleen Smookler, head of school at ATG Learning Academy in Ivyland, PA, emphasizes that the test results don’t affect your child’s grades for the school year or promotion: they measure what students know and need to learn.
Prepare your child for what’s going to happen on testing day, including any accommodations, suggests Smookler. She says, “You might have another teacher, a different schedule and it might seem a little confusing for everyone that day.”
Smookler advises parents “expose [their] child to the test and practice, but don’t drill because that may build up anxiety. Request pre-test booklets from the school.”
She also advises parents discuss with the child’s support team six weeks prior to the test which accommodations are needed for their child, especially for off-site testing.
Study Island is an on-grade level, standards-based formative assessment and practice tool that is 100 percent digital, explains Ryan Hagedorn, chief partner officer. “Students work and practice on the standards that they are being taught every day in school on their level from any electronic device,” he notes. They have partnered with school districts and tutoring companies nationwide, and they also have a home version for families.
Pandit suggests students read word problems and passages twice to look for clues and key terms. Draw a picture or diagram to represent numbers. Ask: Does this answer make sense? Know the rules of the test.
Before it appears on the school calendar, begin to lay the groundwork for your child’s academic career.
“Teaching your children to think logically and critically opens doors for them,” says Pandit. “Confidence comes from building small successes, and when they are able to accomplish goals independently, they feel good and that feeds on itself.”
Presentation: Question reader, audio version of text, directions repeated, enlarged print
Response: Use of calculators or other reference aids, use of computer or iPad, speech-to-text dictation, note taker
Time: Extra time, frequent breaks
Location: Quiet room, small group setting
Lynda Dell is a freelance writer who is an experienced, PA-certified early childhood educator.