Does it seem like your kids are always taking some type of standardized test, or spending a fair amount of time preparing for one? If you shouted “YES”, you’re on to something. A new study by the Council of Great City Schools finds that the average public school student in the U.S. takes 112 standardized tests between pre-K and 12th grade!
If that number seems high, it’s not your imagination. When the study compares the U.S. to countries that outperform us on international exams, they find that those countries only test their students a whopping 3 times during their entire school careers.
That is a staggering difference, especially when you consider that the study found no meaningful link between the amount of testing in a given school district and its students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is a federal test administered every two years and is considered the only reliable measure of student achievement nation wide.
Unfortunately, the study did not look at how much class time was spent preparing for the exams. But many parents can certify that the number is high.
The debate on standardized testing is fierce, with many parents leading the charge of the “opt out movement”, and it seems the government is paying attention. In late October, President Obama weighed in saying that this type of testing should account for no more than 2 percent of class time. He pledged to have the federal government work with the states and school districts to craft a more workable solution. The Department of Education will roll out federal guidelines in January to help states reduce the amount of time they spend on testing.
Both the House and the Senate are drafting updates to the No Child Left Behind Act, a piece of legislation that many anti-testers say helped open the floodgates for more testing in schools. But with national attention being fixed on the issue, it appears that a solution may be on the horizon. And that is good news for many parents and kids who think a reduction in testing is long overdue.
But in the meantime, what are you to do when your kids are suffering from anxiety because they’re faced with all these tests?
- Try to help them identify the root cause. Are they not studying enough and just aren’t prepared, or are they unorganized? If your child doesn’t know how to answer this, maybe ask their teacher for insight. Helping them to develop good study skills and get organized may help them relax and feel more confident when facing these exams.
- If you’re child is simply feeling too much pressure to perform, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions. Are you putting too much emphasis on grades, consciously or unconsciously? The paralyzing fear of failure can inhibit a child’s ability to learn and perform well on tests, so it’s crucial to help them get control of it. Encourage them to do their best, but let them know that grades do not define who they are. If your child is an overachiever by nature, help them find more balance in their schedule. Have them identify a non-academic activity they’d like to do, or a sport they’d like to try, or have them spend a bit more time with friends.
- Ask your child if they’re having trouble learning certain material. If they are, they may not be asking questions in class out of fear of being made fun of. Work to find them extra help with their problem subjects, and tell them that asking questions is a good thing. Teachers don’t expect them to know everything, and they do expect their students to ask questions when they don’t understand something.
- Help them relax by teaching them to focus on their breathing (slow deep breaths) and to think positive thoughts. All too often we’re plagued with a negative thought loop that just keeps replaying the same dialogue- “I’m too stupid” or “I’m just going to fail this test anyway so why bother”. Those negative thoughts can devastate performance. When they start to feel those thoughts coming on, have them focus on their breathing and to think of something that makes them happy. Perhaps that could be a pet or a good time they had with a friend. Once they recall a particular event, have them feel that good feeling for 30 seconds. They should get in the habit of practicing this before a test.