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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
Many states use these tests, called norm-referenced tests, as part of their testing programs. They are designed to measure students against a representative sample of their peers. The results fall on a bell-shaped curve and are frequently reported in percentiles, with 50% being average. If your student gets a 60%, for example, she scored better than 60% of the students in the sample.
A national norm-referenced test can be useful in making national comparisons of how students perform. But it doesn't tell you much about the success of your school. Because these tests are written so that results can be sorted on a bell curve, for example, these tests include very difficult questions designed so that only a few students will be able to answer. As testing expert W. James Popham explained in a National PTA newsletter, these tests "actually measure what students bring to school, not what students are taught in school. Such tests, of course, should not be used to evaluate a school's success. A school should be judged primarily by what students have learned there."
Find your school on GreatSchools.org, click on the Test Scores tab where you'll see an explanation of your state's tests and what they measure. Ask your principal how the results are used to improve learning and teaching.
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