Monday, February 17, 2014

Spring Showers Bring. . . Standardized Tests!

Springtime means sunshine, flowers, and. . .standardized tests! Thousands of students (and teachers) across the country will welcome the warmer weather but not the standardized tests that the spring months usually bring. Read on for more information about one of the most commonly administered standardized tests, the Stanford 10.  This test is used in some districts, including HISD, as part of the criteria for Gifted and Talented qualification.

Spring Showers Bring...
Standardized Tests

by Mikey Smith, M.Ed

The unseasonably cold weather most of the country has experienced this winter has most of us hoping for an early spring and the warm weather that comes with it. For students and teachers however, spring is not only the season of sunshine and daffodils, it is the season of standardized tests -- lots and lots of standardized tests. Most accredited schools give at least one form of standardized test per year, but it is not uncommon for students to take two.

Although they are all lumped together as "standardized tests," all exams are not created or scored the same. One of the most commonly administered tests is the Stanford 10 Test, which thousands of students across the country take each year. But what is this test really all about and how can you help your student prepare?

What's on the test?
The Stanford 10 Test is comprised of a variety of sub-tests in different content areas, although not all schools give all subtests. The test is aligned to national and state standards, and the following areas can be assessed: Reading, Mathematics, Language, Spelling, Listening Comprehension, Science and Social Science. The test is, for the most part, objective, and there are no short answer or essay questions required.

That's a lot of tests! How long does Stanford take?
Although some of us might remember sitting in a desk bubbling in answers until our eyes crossed in order to get standardized tests done in one or two days, many schools now give only one or two subtests each day to avoid testing overload. Although the test is untimed, there are time recommendations given for each subtest that schools can use as guidelines when planning.

How is it Scored?
The Stanford10 is known as a norm-referenced test, as opposed to the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness), which is a criterion-referenced test. What's the difference? Criterion-referenced tests measure a student's results in comparison to a benchmark or set standard of acceptable performance. A norm-referenced test like the Stanford 10 shows a student's results in comparison to a "norm" group of students at the same grade level.  Many schools administer both a norm-referenced and a criterion-referenced standardized test to their students in the hopes of getting a more accurate picture of academic progress and growth.

How Can I Help My Child Prepare?
This is of course the million-dollar question, and one that has caused some degree of consternation among parents and educators. While there are a variety of test preparation materials available for most standardized tests, this is not the case for the Stanford 10.   On the one hand, this can be seen as a plus, since clearly teachers are not able to teach to the test; as a matter of fact, some are not sure exactly what is on it! On the other hand, however, the lack of test prep materials can be frustrating for teachers (and parents) looking to at least give their students a degree of comfort.

So, what can parents do given the lack of test prep materials? First off, make sure you know exactly what tests your child's school gives, and when the tests are given, and make sure those dates are on your family calendar. On "Test Eve," make sure your student gets a good night's sleep, and make sure he has a decent breakfast the morning of the test.  You might also look into a Stanford 10 test preparation class to give your student a better idea of what to expect on test day.  Most importantly, however, you should talk to your student about each standardized test, encourage him to do his best, and assure him that while each test is important, it is not the only thing that determines academic success. Many students are paralyzed by test anxiety and the more comfortable they are made to feel both at home and at school, the better.

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