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Why Parents Should Learn About Standardized Tests
These days, it seems like school and testing are practically synonyms. Not only do our children have to worry about quizzes, homework, and reading and math tests – they also have a slew of alphabet-soup standardized tests to contend with.
Public schools often use these tests for so-called “tracking” – that is, placing your child with other children deemed to have similar abilities. It is in your child’s best interest to be placed in the highest possible grouping for his capability. Based on his test score, your child may be assigned to a self-contained classroom based on competence (for example, a Gifted and Talented Program – often referred to as a G&T or TAG program), or he may be in a mixed classroom but placed into smaller, more tailored groups for certain subjects.
Tracking is a controversial practice, for a number of reasons. And, on a gut level, it does seem unfair. Despite all of that, it’s the reality in a number of public schools – so your job as a parent is to work with your child to ensure that he does as well as possible on the placement exam. Here's some tips on what you can do to help, compliments of Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom:
Ask Your Teacher About Your School's Tracking Policy
The first step is to get a solid grasp on how your school measures students’ ability – and how it eventually groups them (if it does). When you meet with your child’s teacher, ask about your school’s tracking policy. In many schools, “tracking” is a dirty word, so if the teacher tells you that the school doesn’t track, don’t stop there. Dig deeper to find out how they teach children with different abilities. Here are some specific questions you might want to ask:
- Are placement decisions made on testing alone, or do schools use informal assessments, classroom observation, and/or academic performance?
- How are students in the same grade instructed differently?
- How do performance expectations change from one track to the other?
- How can your child change tracks in the future if his academic performance improves?
Check In On Your Child's Progress Throughout the Year
Keep on top of your child’s placement and make sure that she is getting the instruction that’s appropriate for her. You don’t want your child to be shortchanged on the level of instruction that she’s receiving.
While your child’s performance on a placement exam is very important, it’s helpful to remember that no matter how hard you work with your child, there may be areas of weakness that are very difficult for him to overcome. Some children have severe problems with spatial reasoning, or even math in general. For these areas, if your child is still struggling after the exam, it’s important to work with him so that he so he can build these skills - maybe even going to his teacher for suggestions on how to help him – so that he can move to a higher track later.
You can help prepare your child by working through sample problems. Here are five test questions similar to ones your child will encounter on her standardized test: