Admissions tests for all: Some states now require all students in grade 11 to take the ACT or SAT to encourage them to think about going to college.
PSAT: While students typically take the SAT and ACT the junior year in high school, they get a preview by taking the PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, in the sophomore year or before. A high score qualifies students for a National Merit or other scholarship.
The SAT in middle school? Thousands of children in seventh and eighth grades take the SAT, and it can be valuable for academically gifted children who want to apply to summer programs such as the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. But critics caution that for most kids, offering test-prep classes in middle school is worsening what's become known as the "college arms race" to get into prestigious colleges.
Scores on college admissions tests taken before ninth grade don't count. It's important for parents to consider that these are tests designed to assess skills most middle school students have yet to master and the time spent preparing for them comes at the expense of reading and other interests - sports, music and community service - that may inspire your student and help him get into the college of his choice.
By GreatSchools Staff
By now, your middle or high school student has taken plenty of tests. They're a fact of life as students progress through middle and high school, college and the workplace.
All tests are not created equal. They are tools designed for different purposes. Some tests are designed much better than others and even the best is only one piece of information about a student or a school. Understanding what a test is designed to measure will allow you to ask critical questions of your student, your school, school board and lawmakers. It will help you interpret the results and help your student prepare. Here's a primer:
Your student has been taking classroom tests written by a teacher for years. Teachers also use or adapt the pre-written tests that come packaged with textbooks.
Because classroom tests are given more frequently than standardized tests, they provide more insights into a student's strengths and weaknesses. They tell how well your child knows a specific subject taught by a specific teacher and how she scores compared to her classmates. Classroom tests give the teacher feedback so he can adjust his lesson plans.
Ask the teacher what test results show about your child's strengths and weaknesses, and what your child should be doing at home to prepare. Ask the principal and teachers how they use test results to improve instruction.
Your school district or school may use these tests to assess your child's strengths and weaknesses in a particular subject. They're also used for placement purposes to see if he is ready for a more advanced math or language class. Many colleges require diagnostic tests in math and English for placement purposes.
Like classroom tests, these provide valuable information about whether your child needs extra help in a subject and also gives the school feedback about whether teachers are succeeding.
Ask whether placement decisions are based on a single test score, advises Dr. Christopher Tienken, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in New Jersey and a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. "In high school, if a student is kept out of an honors English class because of a test score, but he's doing great in language arts, the school should have a waiver program in place so that he still has the right to take the class," Tienken says.
Ask your principal how the results of these tests are used to better prepare students to advance to the next level. Talk to the teachers and counselor about whether your child will be ready for college math and English. In California, for example, students applying to the state university system can take college placement tests in high school to give them time to get extra help if it's needed.
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