"I tell my students that it is important for them to come to school with their 'A' game. That means come having had a full night's sleep, a good, healthy breakfast and a positive attitude." — Tonya Breland
By Miriam Myers , GreatSchools Staff
You've probably been hearing a lot about standardized tests - from the media, your child's school and even from your child. Preparing for these tests and paying attention to the results are increasingly becoming important parts of public education today.
As a result of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, there's a nationwide emphasis on testing and accountability.
Although NCLB is a federal law, each state Department of Education decides which tests will be given in that state. Schools in all 50 states must give tests annually in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and at least once in grades 10 through 12. Students are now tested in science at least once during grades 3 through 5. Many states give additional tests in social studies, writing and other subjects in various grades.
The NCLB law also requires schools to show that students are "making adequate yearly progress" or face consequences, including allowing students to transfer to another school, offering free tutoring, losing federal funds or in the worst cases, being taken over by the state.
Some states produce documents called directories of test specifications. These documents provide teachers and parents with in-depth information about the tests. For example, New Jersey's Language Arts Directory of Test Specifications explains how many words are in a typical passage on the test. This information helps teachers match their classroom activities and tests to state curriculum standards. Parents should be aware of these documents so they know what type of work they should expect to see in the classroom. Find your state standards.
To see what state tests your child is taking, check your school's profile on GreatSchools.org. For sample test questions, check your state Department of Education online.
How is your child preparing in the classroom to take all these tests? Is she spending many hours filling out bubbles on practice tests and memorizing vocabulary words? Time spent on endless class drills means there's less time for your student to practice higher level thinking skills and learn subjects that aren't on state tests, such as art, music or a second language.
At the other extreme, are the tests not mentioned until the day they are given? Teachers who don't help prepare students for tests are missing the chance to teach valuable life skills such as time management and the ability to understand the meaning of words from context, pull out facts and draw connections from reading passages.
The best test preparation, experts agree, is for the teacher to provide rich, engaging lessons based on the state grade-level standards, which are in turn the basis for the state tests.
"The best way to prepare students for standardized tests is to be addressing the standards continuously in teaching," says Karen Heath, a literary specialist and Vermont's Teacher of the Year in 2005. "Our state tests are designed to measure progress on and attainment of state standards, and so if we are truly teaching to the standards, which we should be, students are in ongoing preparation for the tests."
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