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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

1202-Kids-Notable-articleLarge

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.

[Students Only] Study Habit Tip

Study Habit Tip: Work uninterrupted for 30 minutes, then take a break. Turn off all sensory devices. Why dangle temptation in front of you when trying to get work done? No Facebook; no texting; no TV. Time yourself using an egg timer (because you’ve purposely left your phone in the other room; don’t worry, nothing so important is going to happen in 30 minutes, and you don’t want FOMO to ruin your scholastic success). If you monitor yourself accordingly, parents will respect your work habits rather than threaten to take away privileges. And after you’ve worked for 30 minutes, give yourself a reward. You are in control of how you work. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Word.

keep-calm-and-carry-on-studying-19