Parents: How to Use Tests as Learning Tools

Pencil and TestbookTruism #1: Parents who do not examine their student’s tests are doing their student a disservice in the learning process. Take time to look over the tests your student brings home. And if you are not seeing them, something’s wrong. Is your student hiding low grades? That’s something you need to know.

What if your student is not allowed to keep tests and so cannot bring them home? Talk to the teacher and make an appointment to visit, see the tests, and discuss them. Note: However much teachers want to keep completed tests vaulted away (easier to use them again next year), completed tests belong to students, and, in turn, their parents. It says so in the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.

For parents never to see their students’ tests grades is like having to wait until the end of the tennis season to learn how your player scored in his or her matches. You never get to see your student’s performance or compare the level of play (study) that produced the scores.

Truism #2: The tests your student takes in class gauge your student’s achievement. Standardized tests, however, whether spawned by a state or private agency, are much less valid. One might think of a standardized test like this: You have only one chance to take a photograph of all the students in a class. What are the chances that everyone will “look good?”

So does that make standardized tests meaningless? Almost. Standardized tests tell us about the intellectual ability of students at a certain moment — those who were looking at the camera and smiling in the photo.

Additionally, because standardized tests are created by people more interested in measuring intellectual speed than ability, and measuring breadth of knowledge rather than depth, the final results have little meaning. However, don’t misunderstand. Students need to develop test-taking skills for standardized tests. That’s just a fact of educational life these days.

Truism #3: In the matter of testing, parents should be truly more than spectators. They can help their student adopt the right attitude about tests.

One rule: Avoid negative references to tests and test-makers, especially when your student gets to that age when complaining about everything is the thing to do. At that stage, some students regard tests as an intrusion, a burden. Students who don’t do well on a test will always have excuses. It was “unfair” or “too hard” or “too long.” The last thing parents want to do is support those claims. Why?

Second rule: If you do, you give your student permission to be a quitter. If things are hard, he/she is allowed to “give up.” Instead, you and your student should go to the teacher and talk out the problem. You’re hearing only one side of the situation. Then find a way for your student to study “better” or “longer” or get help, or improve test-taking skills. Your job is not to let your student simply “give up.” That will haunt students when they meet that subject again later in their school career.

How to think about re-testing.  Giving students “another chance” to take the test — even those with high grades — is fine so long as all students have an opportunity to take a test over again. It’s a way of gauging progress after more study. However, even then, re-tests should not replace the original grade.  Some teachers will average the two grades.

At all levels, testing is “the pulse” of teaching and learning. The more you know about your student’s testing, the more you will know about his or her real academic “health.”

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