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What Your Child Should Be Learning: State Tests

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By Miriam Myers , GreatSchools Staff

How Are Tests Connected to Standards?

Each state creates standards by grade level or grade band (i.e. k-2, 3-5) and specific skills students should know at each grade level. The tests, in turn, are supposed to be aligned with the standards. For example in California, in third-grade math, students should understand the special properties of 0 and 1 in multiplication and division. If a teacher is teaching this standards-based curriculum, he is preparing the students for the state tests.

How Is My Child Getting Prepared?

While the focus in the classroom should be on learning the content that will be tested, students also need to learn testing strategies and tips throughout the year in preparation for the tests. If your child is familiar with the format of the test, she's likely to be more confident and have fewer jitters. Test-taking skills will also help her in the future in school and on the job.

Look for practice tests

Tonya Breland, an interim vice-principal and Milken Foundation National Educator award recipient, offers these tips to parents: "Most states have practice questions from their tests that you can access. If not, talk to your child's school for practice test questions. It helps you and your child to know what is expected of them. It also allows you an opportunity to work with your child to show support. Feeding your child with belief is equally important. Let them know how much you believe in their success and help them to be mentally, academically and physically prepared during the testing time."

Ask the teacher how tests are regularly used in the classroom

Test questions come in different formats: multiple choice, short response, open-ended response in which students may have to draw diagrams and provide text, essay questions and true/false questions. The teacher should use a variety of formats throughout the year in tests and quizzes across subject areas to allow students to become comfortable and learn different test-taking strategies.

Testing strategies

Many test-taking strategies - understanding directions, estimating, checking work, making an educated guess, predicting and problem solving - should be taught on a daily basis in the classroom. These skills should not be taught as isolated test-taking skills but as skills in relation to each subject area.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/18/2011:
"If you are going to write an article about anything, especially education, I should think that it would be proof read before published. Pg.3 under Essay a school in Edmond, Oklahoma is mentioned. However, it is not spelled correctly. This is how it is written "Edmund Public Schools in Oaklahoma". Really ? Lets get it right so that our students can count on our abilities in all subjects, including geography. "
01/28/2009:
"This was a GREAT article and I liked it and it also satisfied my quests and added so much to my knowledge.Thank U."
01/28/2009:
"NCLB leaves every child behind. This is not teaching for inspiring lifelong learning. The president who supported this program was himself not educated to be a lifelong learner. Teaching to the test is an insult to the students and teachers. No small wonder so many young teachers are leaving the profession. When half of our country is illiterate how can they judge what teaching to low standards can mean to their children's futures. This is one disgusting hoax placed upon education. Some standards when each state can make up their own tests. Students are bored out of their heads and not inspired to become lifelong learners."
01/20/2009:
"Love your website. Extremely informative. It has a very positive impact on my 11-year old son's grades. THANKS!"
01/20/2009:
"Children should be taught and well versed in the basics, reading, writing and math. Verbal skills are important too. Teaching to the tests is futile, and the tests I have seen could be pased by gerbils with ink on their feet. The standards are very low."
01/20/2009:
"What about kids in special ed classrooms. Our district has kids with specific learning disabilities segregated into different schools by clustering them in self-contained classes such as: K-1 (Jefferson School), 2-3 (Washington School), 4-5 (Roosevelt School). The children have specials and science class in general ed while the rest is in self-contained by grade level. My concern is that these children are not being taught according to core curriculum standards for their grade level but are generally one or two years behind in either language arts or math. What can we do about his problem even if our child's strengths are in math but they are teaching a year behind the standards and therefore the NJASK tests are below for our group as well? Too many kids to individualize in each class but pace is too slow for many children in math. What are the NJASK standards for special ed children? Can we try to get them to try to stick to core curriculum standards within these clas! srooms?"
01/14/2009:
"How should these tests be administered to someone who suffers from ADD? My son struggles with understanding how the tests questions are stated. I am really concerned that he will get frustrated and not complete the test. I am opened to any suggestions on how I might help him get prepared for these tests?"
01/14/2009:
"Many parents don't realize that you have the option of 'opting out' of the test. Schools really dissuade you from doing so because 95% of the students (in CA anyway) must be tested. For an ADD child that might be the best option. If your child has an IEP you may be able to get it changed so that your child will have modifications during the test or take a different test."
01/12/2009:
"How should these tests be administered to someone who suffers from ADD? My daughter struggles with her class room work and finds it so hard to complete her normal required work. I know she will be totally lost on these testing days. Do you have any suggestions on how we might help her when testing begins?"
01/12/2009:
"This article is great, as long as this is what is being demonstrated and taught to our children. In Michigan, it is not. I think our education and testing is too easy. These kids are given study guides, which are exactly the test. The teachers are not really teaching or reinforcing or even challenging what these kids should be learning. To me it is just to be able to check off the square of what needs to be accomplished. Very sad state of affairs for our kids here in Michigan. "
01/12/2009:
"Can I ask for my child to opt out of the tests? I have a child with a learning disability and the testing is tough for her. I'd like to find out about not testing her. Thank you"
09/16/2008:
"This article is good, but still we'd like to see how the states compare to each other...in terms of their standards. It's apples to oranges, mostly. There's no elementary testing (for publics) akin to the SAT. But, there is ERB testing for privates, which is national. How does public testing compare to ERB?"
02/5/2008:
"I'm baffled and do not understand scoring. If a 233 is 'excellent,' what is the best possible score? What ranges of scores are the equivalents of the old A, B, C, and D's? Is there a website comparing scores (not just percentages of students who qualified) among Oregon schools?"
01/30/2008:
"We are in the process of a move across state. What should we do to help to help our 4th and 6th graders prepare for the test while they are between schools? I am not certain of the structure, etc.."
01/29/2008:
"In regards to any type of testing, be it state or everyday course testing, my comments are this. This is the grade that mupltiple subjects and chapter testing intensifies. I believe there should be instruction on taking notes and keeping an agenda to meet timelines on tests or projects due. Our school collects $4.00 and provides an agenda for all students. There should be reinforcement to utilize it. My son is a good student but in 5th grade at this time, he is falling behind on preparedness for routine tests and quizes. The agenda has been with him since he came to this school in 3rd grade. I believe good study habits should be reinforced regularly. If at the end of the day a teacher said students take out your agenda; go to Feb 5th write in project due. Kids would learn and create great habits. Last night I went through his agenda-basically empty. So I showed him where imformation needed to be placed to assist his progress. This is just one small item in learning but large! !ly helpful. Parents are so involved these days because homework is so heavy. You forget about that fact that tests are happening now and study habits have to fit in as well. The early years are important in teaching the utilization of any tools to better learning and I believe they should be an ongoing reinforcement. "
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