The Debate Over Standardized Tests

testing toolsWhether you are pro or anti standardized testing, you or your child are going have to confront them. They are a part of our education system, and since the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Initiative, their value in our education system has skyrocketed. Whether you’re a third grader prepping for a state wide assessment exam, or a professional gearing up for the GRE, when asked to perform on a standardized test, you are essentially being asked to “think within the box” (or bubble). Standardized tests are a beast of their own: they require not only that you access retained information, but can decode a question, process it, use critical reasoning to find an answer, switch from topic to topic effortlessly, all under pressure to perform.

Proponents of standardized testing argue that “teaching to the test” is not so terrible, as it keeps teachers on track and committed to making students motivated to excel in a goal-oriented fashion. In this way, “teaching to the test” can also easily identify what areas a student needs to work on in a definitive way. And lastly, performance anxiety is a part of life, one that we will all have to face eventually, and standardized testing is one way for young people to practice excelling under stress. Students can also learn to manage the stress they experience under these conditions rather than let it control the entirety of their scholastic testingexperiences.

On the other hand, detractors of standardized testing argue that test performance is not an accurate, and certainly not holistic measure of learning. NCLB is more about policy making than it is about a commitment to education and the empowerment that comes from learning, thinking critically, the ability to ask rather than answer questions. “Teaching to the test” might have temporary effects in a student’s performance, but is not a reliable way of measuring academic growth. (As an aside, I think within “teaching to the test” there are various methodologies to explore aside from rote learning and regurgitating facts — but that’s another post!) We just have not figured out how to use test-based incentives to improve education (which is the goal of education based policy making). There is also much to be said for the objectivity of standardized test questions (meaning that questions are not in fact objective) and even with appropriate accommodations given to students with learning differences, uniform questions do not address the complexity of learning styles.

Given all the pros and cons of standardized testing, one thing is clear: a test cannot measure some of the most valuable learning skills like empathy, creativity, resourcefulness, integrity, and critical analysis. Testing relies on the notion that there is a right and a wrong answer, and while that may be the case with many situations in life, there isn’t always an absolute truth. Low test scores can damage a student’s self-esteem and create a poor self-image, especially the younger we start mandating tests. However, testing can also build resilience, teach students how to reason under pressure, perform under stress, focus, and complete a task. There’s no easy answer to this debate, but there are solutions on how to approach standardized tests.

  • Preparation is key.
  • Organization and methodical study habits can be motivational.
  • Manage the importance you or your child put on testing.
  • Separate how you think about learning and achievement.

If you are seeking accommodations DO NOT WAIT, before filing the appropriate paperwork — whether that means an IEP report or private testing from a neuropsychologist. In order for the Board of Education or private testing board, like the College Board, to grant accommodations (like extra time, having questions read aloud to students, a computer and or scribe) students must have a track record (with the appropriate paper trail) that precedes the test date.

 

 

 

 

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SAT Study Guides: Apps & One Cool Book

Acing the SAT … there’s an app for that. No, really, College Board has a question of the day Twitter account you call follow to give your social media a little more substance.

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Available on iTunes, is a new SAT Math app by Michael DeRosa featuring digital flashcards that focus on learning concepts rather than memorizing information. Find over 2,600 question combinations here.

Also available on iTunes, is the English vocabulary app by ExamBusters with over 1,000 common SAT words. Find synonyms, antonyms, sample sentences and parts of speech.

But are apps as effective as taking pen to paper? My two-cents, you want to overload your brain with as many ways to study and learn information as possible. If you’re an auditory learner, apps may be the way to go (in addition to taking as many practice tests as possible, and working with a tutor). If you are a tactile learner, perhaps you might want to make your own flashcards. Take my learning style quiz and figure out what kind of learner you are. You can never be too prepared for standardized tests, and although you may dread studying, the more prepared you are, the less you will experience anxiety. Remember, avoidance is a form of anxiety, so the more you procrastinate and put off studying, the more anxious you are making yourself. If apps can help you get into the study groove, why not give them a try? But don’t rely on them.

I also recommend this cool not-your-everyday SAT study guide, written by my colleague, writer, former tutor, and Bonobo enthusiast, Elliot Schrefer, Hack The SAT for strategies and sneaky shortcuts on how to up your score. 51WrSpr2Q0L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

 

UPCOMING SAT TEST DATES: March 8 and  May 3, 2014 Register Now!  

[Parents] How To Help Your Kids Develop Social Skills

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Children and adolescents often find it difficult to communicate with their peers or adults in an effective manner. Because school is the place your child spends the majority of his or her day, it is where he or she will develop social skills and acquire a social status or identity. Psychologists have written extensively about social status and its imprint on a child’s identity. Below is an excerpt outlining a general spectrum of social statuses:

“Some children are well endowed with social skills. They are popular and very well liked by all or most of their peers. Some seem to have a knack for making friends and getting along with others. They are very friendly and outgoing and always seem to be at ease around people. Other children are popular because they are on the school football team, play in a band, can draw very well or are really good-looking. Popular students are typically the leaders at school. They are self-confident and influential.

Many students are not really considered popular but are pretty well-liked by their peers and have a number of friends. This group of children usually comprises the majority of the students in a class. These likable children feel good about how they relate to others but may, at times, worry about what their classmates think of them. Some children are shy, quiet and timid. They may have one or two close friends but not a large group of friends. While other students like them, they do not get involved in many activities in or out of school. They tend to feel awkward or uncomfortable around people they don’t know very well. Shy children usually aren’t unhappy about how they get along with others but wish that they could feel more comfortable and be more involved. Some shy children become anxious in social situations.

Other students are ignored or unnoticed by their peers. No one really dislikes or likes them. These children are not the ones picked first for activities, but they are not the ones that are teased or bullied either. They are usually social adept. Some of these children don’t like being ignored but others don’t mind because they are more interested in solitary activities or prefer interactions with adults more than with peers.

The children who have the most social difficulty at school are those that are rejected by their peers. Other children really don’t like them and may not treat them well. Rejected children are those that are picked on, laughed at, talked about, teased and bullied. They are widely disliked, excluded from activities and may be ostracized by their peers.” – Candy Lawson, Ph.D. “School and Social Skills”

Does your child have difficulty approaching new groups of children?  Is it a challenge for your child to make friends due to his or her shyness?  Are social situations a scary prospect for your child?  Is problem-solving in the classroom or in everyday life an issue? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you might be interested in enrolling your child in a social skills class. Holly Reichlin, a colleague of mine who is a certified speech pathologist, educator, and learning expert in private practice, is running a Brooklyn-based social skills group for children of varying ages. Her social skills groups explore the nature of peer relationships through the use of plays, book making, and games designed to nurture verbal and non-verbal communication and social skills.

Groups can be an ideal way to address social skills in young people because they foster a supportive, collective, safe, yet simultaneous “real world” setting for children to practice adaptive social skills. Says Holly, “I’d like to see your children become detectives. Through a process of role playing and problem solving, they can unveil the mysteries of the social spectrum.” Social skills like confidence, curiosity, cooperation, and communication are essential to learning and go hand-in-hand with developing resilience, and scholastic success.

Holly’s social skills classes address children of different ages (5-8; 8-10; 10-13; adolescents) and distinct interpersonal needs. Please contact her directly for more information.

il_fullxfull.214758801Holly Reichlin is a certified speech language pathologist who has had a school-aged private practice in Brooklyn Heights for over 20 years. She has also been a teacher of the speech and hearing handicapped in the public schools for over 30 years.  She has collaborated with parents, teachers, school psychologists, learning specialists and counselors when treating her clients. You can contact her at speech@pegas.us

[Parents] No School = A Stressed Out Kid? Holiday Break Survival Guide

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They might not admit it, but kids (children and adolescents) crave structure. Though they might fuss and fight about the monotony of school, young people enjoy the stability and comfort of routines. (American Psychological Association). School — regulations and all — provides both structure and routine. “The holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone,” explains Sara Listas, LMSW. “With teens in particular, you might see an increase in ‘acting out’ behaviors. This might be due to unconscious anxiety that comes with a break in the routine. Adolescents might not be aware of it, but they know they are going to be out of school in an unstructured environment.” Even in my college lit class, my students like to sit in the same seats each session, and will tell their peers to move if someone sits in his or her spot.

So what happens when the routine is broken, even for a short holiday hiatus? Here are a couple tips to help parents ease the school-free days to come.

  •  Understand that a change in behavior (and often not a pleasant one) is not personal. As Sara Listas, LMSW explains, unconscious anxiety comes with a break in the routine.
  • Keep children and teens stimulated, mentally and physically. Of course they will want to sleep, hang out with friends, and do all kinds of unstructured activities, but try to plan outings that require active participation. Rather than focussing on saying “NO” to TV or video games, organize museum visits, playwriting and performances, cooking, craft projects, yoga classes or any type of participation in a team sport.
  • Encourage children of all ages to read and/or host book parties and salons to chat about what they’re reading.
  • Volunteer work during a holiday break is a fantastic (and philanthropic) way to keep teens engaged with the world (and help them build their college resume).
  • When visiting relatives, encourage children and teens to interview family members or look through mementos and keepsakes. An added bonus will come when students realize that history isn’t just a class, but an integral part of the human experience.
  • This recent New Yorker article disputes the reliability of brain games to improve attention (especially in young adults with A.D.H.D.) and boost I.Q. levels, but they are better than GTA 5.
  • Use the break to assess progress and create realistic goals. Often times, students (and parents) don’t realize how far behind they are until the end of a semester or time right before a holiday break. School reports and grades usually precede a break, so expect the results to come while you’re on holiday. If the results come as a total shock, don’t freak out. Breathe and reboot. Now is the time to strategize how to catch up. If a student is behind in more than one subject, divide and conquer. Remember, as a parent, you model behavior for your child. And chances are that if a student is behind and not telling you, he or she is overwhelmed and not sure how you will react.If a student is all caught up with his or her work, you may want to assess what to do with this time. Our achievement-driven culture tells us to ignore down time. But, I say, rethink what constitutes achievement. In fact, why not pose that very question to your child? The best academic success happens when students set their own goals and regulate their own motivation. Of course they might need some nudging, but the more agency they take in their achievement, the better the results.