Before You Put Too Much Stock in Your Child’s Test Scores, Read This

The following post is from Jennifer, a lifelong educator:

pencils
source: stevendepolo

Emphasis on test scores in schools today has reached fever pitch.  Students are drilled on how to answer questions, time is spent taking practice tests, and teachers collaborate on how to raise the numbers.  I agree that we need a way to assess the effectiveness of our instruction, and we need to know how much the students have learned.

But, standardized tests are only a piece of the puzzle.

Consider some of the things that impact your child’s test results:

1.  Standardized tests are usually given in early spring.

Depending on your school district’s curriculum, your child may be asked questions that have not yet been covered in the classroom.  For example, probability is often taught in third grade.  If your child doesn’t learn that until May, they may miss questions on the test.  It’s not that they can’t answer the question, it’s that they haven’t been introduced to the material yet.  Their score might be lower as a result.

2.  Distractions abound.

The emphasis on inclusion has allowed students with special needs to experience the same instructional surroundings as other children their age.  But that also means that many classrooms today have one-on-one aides, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and resource room specialists coming and going.

Teachers work hard to minimize interruptions.  The reality is, however, that today’s students have to be experts in tuning out these distractions as people walk in front of their desks, confer with the teacher, get out special equipment, and move around the room.  If your child has difficulty concentrating in a fluid environment, they may miss some of the finer points of a lesson.  Missing a specific question on a test can negatively impact the score.

3.  Collaboration is a buzz word in education, and understandably so.

Many of tomorrow’s workers will spend much time working with others.  How well kids get along will impact how much they learn during group time.  The social issues that plague some students on the playground follow them right into the classroom.   If your child is placed with a group of children who don’t work well together, they may not learn as much as they would otherwise.

4.  The classroom where your child learns may not be where they take the test.

Some assessments are taken in the library or media center.  Sometimes your child will be with a group of unfamiliar children or adults.  The change in surroundings can impact their confidence and/or concentration.

5.  Some of today’s tests are long.

In my state, the elementary students take six one-hour tests over six days.  Let’s be honest:  By Day 6, not all of my students put forth their best efforts.  They just want to be done. 

6.  The circumstances surrounding the test can also effect their performance.

The amount of sleep the night before, the dynamics of the bus ride on the way to school, the fact that the lunch schedule was pushed back and students are hungry, and the temperature of the room all impact how well students perform.  There’s nowhere on the test form to note those factors.

All that said, test scores can give you some insight into how much your child is learning.  Compare them with the information you glean from parent-teacher conferences, with daily work samples, and with report cards.  Just don’t panic if your child’s scores are lower than expected or start banking on a scholarship if the scores are particularly high.  Remember that your child’s scores measure performance on this one test, not their potential to learn in the future.

How much emphasis does your child’s school place on test scores?  How do your children feel about taking a standardized test?

Jennifer is passionate about children and education. She homeschooled her two sons for five years, established and directed a Christian school in Maryland for 20 years, and currently teaches in a public school in a Chicago suburb. She loves investing in relationships and delights in every moment that she spends with her family.
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