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Standardized tests may require adjustments

Performing well in school is not an automatic guarantee that a student will breeze through standardized tests that measure skill and content.

 
PRLog - Feb. 14, 2012 - Dear Dr. Fournier:

My daughter does well in school. Her grades have always placed her on the Honor Roll. She has won prizes for her science projects, poetry and other writings. She is an active member of numerous organizations, has traveled and is very aware of international issues. Yet she does poorly on standardized tests, especially on reading comprehension and verbal skills.
My daughter is bright, motivated and dedicated. She is also frustrated with herself because of these tests. She knows they could keep her from going to certain colleges.

Chuck D.
Columbus, OH

Dear Chuck,

ASSESSMENT:

Performing well in school is not an automatic guarantee that a student will breeze through standardized tests that measure skill and content.
The good news is that test taking is a skill that can be taught. Some students benefit from learning strategies in group sessions, others who have already developed their own strategies for success need to be assessed and coached only in the area that weakens them on standardized tests.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and I cannot only guess at your daughter’s unique situation, in my many years of working with students I have encountered several reasons that appear more often than others. Two common ones are what I call “test-timing” and “leap-thinking.”

WHAT TO DO:

1. TEST-TIMING
“Test-timing” is much different from typical time-management skills. Students who are excellent time managers – who have never turned in an assignment late or failed to finish a test at school – are able to manage tasks within the expected time limit because they are so perceptive in understanding their teacher’s expectations, and they prepare accordingly.
For example, perceptive students will anticipate that the teacher usually gives matching questions, fill-in-the-blank, and two essay questions on each test. They go into that test prepared to answer some parts quickly, and spend more time on others.
Some students may flip to the back of the test, read the essay questions first, and be thinking about them while answering the other sections. Other students may actually complete essay questions first and then go on to multiple choice, spending extra time to avoid trap words like “always” and “never.”
Over time, these children have learned the occupational skills of being a student. The secret to their success in school is that they are strategic and therefore perform best when they are in control.
But on standardized tests, control is in the hands of the examiner – from where to place the booklet, to when students may open it, to having to follow the sequence that test-makers demand. So the student who thrives with strategic control loses this asset in the rigidity of standardized testing.
It is not a matter of not knowing the material. It is a matter of having lost their autonomy to demonstrate it.
So what can a strategic student do? Here are a few suggestions:

·       Memorize the amount of time allotted for each portion of the test, and the number of minutes for each question on the sub-tests.
·       Practice the test under real-time situations with an analog watch in plain view. (The watch should have a second-hand.) This will help your daughter approach time in terms of space so that the loss of control over time does not paralyze her.
·       After taking the practice test several times, have your daughter make a list of strategies to improve her score. By becoming conscious of these strategies, she may regain some sense of control and, with it, the emotional safety she thrives on.

2. LEAP-THINKING
A second common problem is “leap-thinking.” Some students have reading comprehension so well developed that they are able to read and immediately capture explicit and implicit meaning. They immediately begin to “leap” to their own new thoughts which, when offered in reports and essay questions, merit high grades for insight.
Students who thrive on this type of creative thinking may not fare well on a test that seeks one “right” answer. Their very ability to think beyond what others have thought of is the reason they are unable to choose the answer that was “right” for the person who wrote the test, but seems too simple for a student who is like-minded.
A few suggestions for “leap-thinkers” include the following:

·       Have your daughter define what reading is all about. She should be reading for recall, reading for paraphrasing, and then reading for thinking. The more conscious she is of the distinctions, the more she can make sense out of what seemed senseless.
·       Study verbal parts of standardized tests by analyzing the questions. Your daughter should determine whether it requires recall (“Who was the main character?”), paraphrasing (“What was the central idea?”), or thinking (“How would you rewrite the story’s ending?”) As your daughter analyzes the intent of the question, she will be able to find the “right” answer much easier.
Turn your concern about standardized tests into action. Work with your daughter, her teachers, and outside resources if necessary to pinpoint the strategies she needs to succeed in this type of test environment.
Because you have already acknowledged all of your daughter’s wonderful and unique qualities, it should come as no surprise that when a good student underperforms on standardized tests, it is often because that student has taken control of education and has made the transition to a knowledge-maker!

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at drfournier@hfhw.net.

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For 30 years, Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been helping children become more successful in school. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework," was published by Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She holds her doctorate in education.

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