It’s no secret that the No Child Left Behind Act, ratified in 2002, has become a source of controversy. Many educators have rallied against it. Activists have alluded to the idea that it promotes teachers simply “teaching to the test” in order to achieve certain specific governmentally regulated benchmarks. There is no doubt that this kind of education has left students with huge gaps in their knowledge, and this might even have been a part of your reasoning behind choosing to homeschool over your local public school.
Because they play a lead role in a poorly approached educational plan, standardized tests have been stigmatized as inferior educational tools. They appear as the culprit behind No Child Left Behind’s failures and have undergone additional scrutiny for seeming patently unfair in the way they are skewed through specific demographics. However, the truth is, there are many useful aspects to having a student go through what might feel like an artificial process, and to go through it early and often.
- It’s More Than Filling in Circles with a #2 Pencil.
I have done a fair bit of test tutoring in addition to my other work, and one thing that I generally stress for my students is how to approach standardized tests. It’s not just about concepts and ideas—it’s an ability to face stressful situations that have real consequences. Stress management is essential when it comes to achievement in any career and at any university.
Waiting too long to take an important test can lead to test anxiety, so the sooner students are able to adjust to this stress, the better. Have a plan and be ready.
- Why Should I Learn the Volume of a Cylinder?
I try to have my students consider that the “why” of these tests is about creating cognitive habits and abilities. These tests are brain exercises, and it’s never too early to begin your workout. Will you use the binomial theorem in your daily life? Probably not, but this is not really about specific concepts in mathematics. It’s about expanding your ability to think critically and engage your memory. Also, it’s a good lesson in logistic problem-solving, which is why test-taking concepts (i.e. strategies for reading comprehension) are useful to know.
- Tests Aren’t Just About Assessment, They’re About Learning.
Annie Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, says in a Time.com article defending standardized testing, “By using the test as a learning tool instead of an evaluation instrument, we could help students avoid the perils of testing while garnering all its benefits.” She goes on to point out statistics on memory and retention that are linked to this kind of testing.
- Is Assessment Really a Bad Thing?
You can use standardized tests as assessment tools to see how your student is faring in certain subjects. By participating in low-stakes (or no-stakes) testing at home, it will give your student an idea of how he or she might be faring, and grant confidence or demonstrate places that still need some significant work. While these tests should not be the be-all and end-all, they do assess certain skills very well and can allow you to judge how your homeschooled student is comparing to other students across the nation.
- It’s What Most Colleges Want.
Unfortunately for some, standardized tests are still the main assessment criteria for many colleges. In fact, there are colleges that simply use a matrix that looks at these test scores, and mostly ignore any other application material (no essays, no recommendations—just the tests). Though you may not be interested in having your student apply to a place that doesn’t really feel the need to individualize their acceptances, the SATs and ACTs are not going away anytime soon. It’s imperative that you prepare and learn their tricks.
In some ways, you will be at an advantage, because the SAT tries to create situations that can confuse students in a standard curriculum to see if those students can think more comprehensively. As your home curriculum is likely more attuned to your student’s needs, these fake-outs may be something you can prepare for more specifically—but only if you start working on this years in advance.
While the evolution of the standardized test demonstrates that there are continual improvements to be made, there are still many reasons to approach tests with an attitude of what they can do for your student, rather than looking at them as a hurdle to be avoided or overcome.
About the Author
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Petersons and EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.