by Karen Quinn, The Washington Post
If you’re a parent of a public school student in a state that has adopted Common Core standards, then you’ve certainly heard of the opt-out movement – where students (with their parent’s blessings) are declining to take the mandated math and English Language Arts (ELA) tests.
Parents and students object to these tests for reasons that are arguably valid and true. They say that meaningless mandated tests are taking over our schools, too much time is being spent in the classroom preparing for tests just so the government can find out how well teachers and schools are performing, the tests are used to rank, sort, judge and label our kids, teachers and schools and that isn’t fair, and the Common Core standards and tests that assess them are too hard.
What is a reasonable parent to do? I am a co-founder for testingmom.com and have written the book Testing for Kindergarten with tips about test-taking. But for me, even with all the controversy over this test, I would send my child in to take it. Here is why:
1) Your child needs to learn how to take a standardized test. In a few years, your child may take the SAT or ACT, and his score will impact whether he gets into college. I run a business that helps young children prepare for tests. One thing I’ve seen firsthand is how inexperience with taking a test negatively impacts a child’s score. When a kid does poorly on a test, parents typically conclude their child doesn’t have the underlying knowledge he needed. More often than not that isn’t the case.
Inexperienced test-takers make one amateur mistake after another. They don’t read the passage carefully. They don’t go back to the passage and look for the answer on multiple-choice questions. They don’t read all the answer choices. They go straight to the most obvious answer. They lose focus. They stop at a question when they get stumped. I could go on and on. It takes years for a child to learn how to be a good standardized test taker. Sitting for the Common Core test will help your child get better at the test-taking skills he needs to master if he is going to apply to college.
And by the way, the SAT is currently being revamped to be more in line with the academic standards students are mastering in school. The man spearheading the effort is David Coleman, the chief architect of the Common Core, another good reason for gaining experience with this particular test.
2) You will learn important things about your child. If your child takes the test and does well, that’s great to know. If your child scores below expectations, you need to find out why. Is she struggling in math or English Language Arts? Is it that she doesn’t have the skills to do the work, or is it her test taking abilities? Is test anxiety getting in the way of her performance? Look at your child’s scores from year to year. Are they improving or declining? How do her test scores compare to her grades at school? Some kids do great in school, but perform miserably on standardized tests. I was one of those kids. I wish my parents had noticed that and found ways to get me help. This is your chance to dig in and figure out what is behind your child’s test performance and provide support.
3) Your child will feel good about herself. Last year, my partner’s daughter, Rowan, took the PARCC (Common Core) test in New York City for 4th grade. When she began practicing for the test, she struggled a lot. Her parents stepped in to help so that she would feel prepared. It took many hours of work on her part, but by test day, she felt confident that she knew just what to expect. Emerging from the test, she was tired, but felt good about her performance. A few months later, her scores came in and they were excellent. In New York City, 4th grade test scores are used to determine which school a child gets into for middle school. Rowan’s scores qualified her for the school she most wanted to attend. This was a lesson to Rowan that if you work hard, you can achieve your goals. If you can give your child this kind of positive experience around taking an important test, it will give her confidence that she can handle all the tests that are surely in her future.
4) There’s value in preparing for this test. Years ago, when my kids were little and time was taken in class to teach them how to take the state test, I felt it was a waste. With the new Common Core standards, I don’t feel that way. To get ready for this test, kids are learning how to cite evidence from primary or secondary sources to support their point of view and show why they believe their analysis in essays is correct. They are taught to lay out the reasoning behind their answers to math questions. These are important thinking and communication skills that will serve our kids for school and for life. They are not just skills that apply to taking a test.
5) What message do you want to send? Life is tough and it certainly isn’t fair. There are challenges ahead for your child and mine. What kind of message are we sending our kids if we let them opt out of things because they are too hard or (in our opinion) meaningless, unfair or a waste of time? If your child faces adversity – say, standing up to bullies, changing schools, or confronting a family illness or crises, you want him to know that he has the ability to handle the pressures that comes with these difficult life tests. I believe this starts with not opting out of the tests our schools expect our kids to take. If your child has to struggle or fail, let him do it in school, on a test, when he’s young and you are there to catch him and help him get back on his feet. Teach your child that you don’t run away from tests – even the tests you don’t think are fair or right. You prepare for them, take them on, and learn whatever you can from the experience.
It’s a lot easier to stay home in protest (and what kid wouldn’t want to protest a test!) than it is to focus and think your way through a challenging math and English Language Arts exam.
For my kid, I’d opt for the latter.
Karen Quinn is co-founder of www.TestingMom.com, a Web site that helps pre-K to 8th graders ace important tests and build skills for school success. She is the author of Testing For Kindergarten.