By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, Curriki
As we approach the end of the school year in many parts of the world, thoughts invariably turn to testing. US students are in the throes testing: SATs, ACTs, AP tests, IB tests, finals, standardized tests, you name it. Another day, another test.
How do we determine if students learned the material during the school year? Testing.
How do students get college credit for an AP class or an IB program? Testing.
How do they get the SAT and ACT scores they need to apply for college? Testing.
How does the state find out how a school is performing? Testing.
How Much is Too Much?
OK, so all this testing is necessary and has a clear purpose. But how much testing is beneficial, and when does it become too much? Educators and parents have a broad spectrum of opinions on this.
A PDK/Gallup Poll published in The Washington Post in August 2015 found that parents overwhelmingly feel there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in U.S. public schools and that test scores are not the best way to judge schools, teachers or students. The longest-running survey of Americans’ views on public education, it showed that the public rejects school accountability built on standardized tests, which has been federal policy since President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind.
However, a separate survey by Education Next, which generally supports reform initiatives, found much greater parental support for testing – close to 70 percent across all demographic groups. Education Next posed the question differently, asking specific questions about actual testing instead of gathering opinions on testing in theory.
So the jury remains out, and the concept of testing is ripe for discussion. But no matter what, testing is here to stay. So let’s take a look at the different types of testing.
Standardized testing has a large crowd of proponents and critics.
The Huffington Post’s education blogger, Alan Singer, a social studies educator and historian in the Department of Teaching Learning Technology at Hofstra University in New York, writes that “there are at least three valid educational reasons to stop the high-stakes testing regime that drives American mis-education.” He says high-stakes testing generates anxiety and “transforms curriculum into test prep that undermines any test validity,” and the penalties for poor performance “create a nation of cheaters, not learners or producers.”
The Thomas Fordham Institute, which promotes educational excellence for every child in America through quality research, analysis and commentary, disagrees, saying standardized tests are essential because of “objectivity, comparability, and accountability.”
Aaron Churchill, the Institute’s research director, says such tests are beneficial because they are designed to be objective measures, assessing students based on a similar set of questions under nearly identical testing conditions, which yields comparability of student achievement. He believes the tests are also the best way to hold schools accountable for their academic performance.
Since standardized tests are a fact of life in US schools, Scholastic offers the Top 5 Ways to Prepare Students (grades K-6) for Standardized Tests . They include the Sweet Treat Review (featuring candy rewards), the Game Show Warm-Up (for math tests), the Money Motivator, and de-stressing activities like reading a book to relax before the test and 3 Steps to Less Stress (including stretching, sucking on peppermint and a balloon in their pocket).
For older students, May is the time to feel the stress of final exams.
Are they necessary? Dr. Thomas R. Browne, a retired professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, says finals are vital because they test a students’ mastery of the subject matter, and they help prepare for real life. In an editorial published in Boston.com, Browne wrote that students who go on to postgraduate education, such as law or medicine, often find their entire school year is judged by their performance in finals, so it’s beneficial to practice this skill in high school.
Fastweb offers nine ways to prepare for finals:
- Tip 1: Start early
- Tip 2: Organize.
- Tip 3: Outline
- Tip 4: Make flashcards
- Tip 5: Get help
- Tip 6: Sleep
- Tip 7: Stay calm
- Tip 8: Don’t rush
- Tip 9: Relax post-exam
Overcoming Test Anxiety
It’s normal, and even beneficial, to feel nervous before a test. But for some people, the anxiety is more intense and can interfere with their concentration or performance. Kids Health offers some strategies for managing anxiety, such as:
- Use stress to your advantage, to remind you to prepare.
- Ask for help from a teacher or school counselor.
- Be prepared by having good study habits throughout the school year.
- Watch what you’re thinking, and try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Learning to tolerate small failures and imperfections.
- Take care of yourself, by getting enough sleep and perhaps trying breathing exercises.
Next week: Testing Time, Part 2: College Bound
Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, leads and manages all of Curriki’s content development, user experience and academic direction. Learn more at Curriki.org.