Lorraine McCune, Ph.D.
can parents and teachers cope with high-stakes testing?
parents and teachers have the most to gain from quality schools
and the most to lose when schools fail. We read of a national
goal to have all students achieve academic success within 10 years.
But what about students in classrooms right now? Events of 10
years hence will be too late for them. To insure the success of
current students, parents and teachers need to emphasize a variety
of learning strategies that engage children in classroom work
and intellectual activities outside the classroom.
We need to build children’s confidence so that they do not see
tests as scary monsters, but as opportunities to display knowledge
and skills. Parents’ and teachers’ fear of testing can be easily
transmitted to children and high anxiety is anathema to successful
Intense after-school practice on test-like items may backfire
as children lose the will to learn and the expectation of success.
Rather, we should structure class time well, with activities that
prepare children to approach tests calmly and confidently. For
example, Dr. Elizabeth Young studied the effect of peer-evaluation
and interaction on children’s writing skills. Children practiced
writing to a prompt (poem or picture) as the NJ Writing Test for
fourth grade requires, in the informal comfort of their classroom.
Those who were taught the “writing rubric” that would be used
to score the official writing sample and had practice evaluating
their own and peer writings out-performed students who received
only teacher feedback on a post-test. After this experience the
children could look forward to the “real test” as a performance
So we must not cede all power to the testers. We are the ones
who teach the children every day. There are ways to “de-mystify”
standardized tests, like learning when to guess, and skipping
hard questions for later. Some orientation to testing is helpful,
but let’s include games and enrichment in after-school activities,
not merely drill in testing.#
McCune is an associate professor at the Rutgers University Graduate
School of Education and serves as advisor to educational toy company,
General Creation. She can be reached at www.generalcreation.com
in the “Ask Dr. McCune” section.
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