Standardized test taking is a skill and one worth practicing. During the school year, you can practice this skill by using the tests included with your curriculum. If that isn’t your style, try pulling 10 math problems from the week’s lesson, write them on a sheet of paper and making that a quick written assessment of your child’s learning. Today we are talking about formal assessments: those with a score that gets officially recorded. If you only use informal assessments in your home school, your student will not be prepared for the biggies like the ACT or SAT.
Homeschoolers and standardized testing seem to have a strained relationship. I have talked with parents who use standardized tests for their own purposes. They use them to show how their kids are doing in the tested areas (usually math and reading skills) and help them know to work harder in areas where the student do not score as well. If a child does perform well, it serves the purpose of validation for both parent and child. Some states require homeschoolers to take the same test that classroom educated students take. I find this silly and unfair, but if that’s the law, then that’s the law.
Taking a standardized exam has a lot to do with familiarizing your student with the language used in the questions (such as some of the Common Core lingo), how tests are structured and also time management. All of these skills will prepare your student to get the most accurate assessment possible. However, what if a kiddo is tired that day? Maybe they are hungry or have something else on their mind. Maybe they don’t care about this test they are about to take. Maybe they are scared to death of doing poorly and embarrassing themselves and you, their parents. Test anxiety is real. You can have the brightest kid ever and if they have test anxiety, their scores will be awful. It will often be your perfectionist child, but not always. There are so many factors that can cause an inaccurate representation of your child’s knowledge, and yet so much can ride on these tests.
Cramming is always a bad idea. If you are taking an exam in the spring, you want to start your prep about January (if not earlier). There are plenty of resources for Common Core test prep (PARCC). You can even practice PARCC questions for free on their website. ACT and SAT books usually contain practice exams. These are diagnostic tools for your student, the results of which allow them to focus their preparation time on areas where they are lacking rather than on just everything. However, testing vocabulary is one area that you can easily start on at the beginning of the school year to be ready for a spring exam. Make yourself some index cards with test words that are unfamiliar to you. Add to them every week until your student is proficient, then edit some out and add more. Math is one of those areas you have to understand deeply to do well on a big test. You can still write down formulas for studying and do lots of practice problems to be ready for test day.
The weight of exams is going to vary between states and between families. It may even vary between children. Use it as a tool, not a label. A child who does well on standardized tests can become complacent, even arrogant, about daily work. A child who does poorly can believe that they just aren’t smart enough, so why bother? It’s just a test. It’s part of life. Think about taking a driving test or a real estate exam. College students are not the only ones with testing ahead. A test is a measure, but it’s not the only way to assess learning. Don’t forget that! Call one of our curriculum consultants for help with your specific assessment concerns.
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