It’s that time again………Maaaaaaaaarch Maaaaaadness!!!
The term March Madness has become synonymous with that time during basketball season when college teams from across the country begin to fight to the death for a chance at being named National Champs.
You may not know this, but in your students school, March Madness has become a term synonymous with testing season. For those students and teachers involved in high stakes testing….March is crunch time.
Parents, you may have noticed some changes this month in your students homework. More than likely they are beginning to bring home worksheets with the term “test prep” associated with it. There may be parent meetings coming up designed to inform you and your student about what to expect during test week. You will probably receive tips on how you can help optimize your child’s testing success such as getting to bed early, eating a well balanced breakfast and arriving on time each day of the test.
All month long your student’s school and possibly your household is all abuzz because……the test is coming. This type of prolonged attention to such an important time can definitely lead to unwarranted stress and break down from students as well as teachers. Most teachers will tell you that they have been preparing your students all year for this test and this month is simply for review. So why all the fuss? Why is it that not just during the month of March, but all year long is there so must attention paid to these tests? What’s so “high stakes” about them anyway.
What’s really at stake?
When we say that the stakes are high, we are saying that there is quite a bit to lose. So who stands to lose if our students do not perform well and what exactly will be lost?
Let’s begin by looking at the students. One purpose of high stakes testing is to determine student growth. Basically, did they learn anything this year? More specifically, did they learn what they were expected to learn this year and to what extent? You may already know that your students’ scores fall into three basic categories, Meets (proficiency in the standards set forth for their grade level), Exceeds (proficiency in the standards set forth for their grade level), and Does Not Meet (proficiency in the standards set forth for their grade level). Your state may describe these categories differently, but the underlying meaning is the same. For your student, this is what the test is supposed to show. Did they get it? Did they really get it? Or did this year seem to wash past them completely? Some states have chosen to tie promotion and retention to these tests, thus making the stakes VERY high for your students in terms of their academic destiny, and their academic and personal confidence.
Good old teachers, the backbone of the education system…..unless your test scores are low. Then you may find yourself in some trouble. In years past, test scores reflected on teachers within their school buildings and through out their school systems. These scores if high, won them praise, admiration, and possibly compensation in the form of a stipend or promotion. If scores were low, well, you were probably the topic of teacher lounge discussion, but still in some situations would be given out of the classroom positions (for teachers these are seen as promotions even when pay does not increase). The idea was that if you could not get the kids to succeed you should be doing something that does not directly affect test scores. Today for many teachers these test scores are going to determine their eligibility for employment. Many states are adopting new evaluative models that use student test scores as data to determine teacher effectiveness. If found to be ineffective it could cost some teachers their jobs.
Schools and school systems
At this point it is not much of a secret that test scores have been directly tied to federal funding over the years. The passing of No Child Left Behind ensured this pay for performance model. Now with the announcement of Race To The Top, schools are being rewarded based on creating plans to fix low achievement. Does this mean that test scores no longer mean as much? Not hardly. High stakes test are still very important to schools and school systems in that they provide a valid (at least that’s how they see it) method of determining the quality of the educational services they provide. The idea is that the information collected from these tests gives schools and school systems a painted picture of their current situation and allows them to make adjustments accordingly. Thus, these adjustments turn into strategic plans, which are hoped to qualify them for federal funding. So test scores and money are still tied together. However, in spite of this need for data collection, tests scores serve another purpose. The demand for school systems to perform well is connected to another monetary incentive. Basically, the strength of your school system has a direct reflection on your community. It determines who moves in and who moves out and how much $$$$ they take or bring with them.
Long, long, long story short
High stakes testing means that each member of the group has something to lose. What I have given you is a very brief, uncomplicated version of the story. My goal was not to inundate you with details, statistics, and such. Instead it was to give you an idea as to why everyone at your student’s school may seem a little worn out or even freaked out right now.
The best way for you as a parent to combat the frenzy at home is to be honest with your kids about why the test is important, talk to them about how they feel about the test, and spend as much quality time possible helping them to prepare. Simple acts like going over homework, reading with them and discussing what you’ve read and using online test prep sites will help make the home/school circle complete and hopefully ease your student’s mind.
Sites for test prep
Because states offer their own versions of a state standardized test it is best to Google search your state’s online test prep resources. If you have not received links from your student’s teacher yet, take a look at the school and district websites, state education department websites, and email your student’s teacher. He or she may just be bogged down and has forgotten to pass them out. Often your local library may keep a few copies of test prep booklets. These may be slightly outdated as far as terminology and the phrasing of test question, but It is proven that the more interaction your student has with test type material, the less stressed they will be when given the real deal. Do not forget to check out the test prep section of your local bookstore and teacher supply store. These offer your most current forms of test prep materials.
Although the stakes are high, they do not have to be scary or stressful for your student. While the school is putting the pressure in their last efforts to make the grade. You can help your student by staying calm, communicating, and helping them prepare at home.