Insights into Standardized Testing from a Parent/Educator

April 15, 2022

Standardized testing is a hot topic with both parents and educators. Recently it was announced that FSA (the Florida Standards Assessment) will end after this year. After being in education for 15 years, I am not sad to see it go for many reasons. It is stressful for students, it takes up a lot of time during the school year (1-2 day per subject to test, plus the same for a practice test if it is computer based), it is a very narrow snapshot of a student’s ability, yet has a major impact on their academic future and on evaluations of teachers, and there are concerns with the inaccuracies from released tests that make many wonder the validity of those in use that aren’t vetted by educators.

But testing isn’t going away completely. Students will still be taking the benchmark assessments 3 times a year in each subject to measure progress–a practice that was already in place in addition to state standardized testing. This should make for a more accurate measure of student progress to guide teaching and support throughout the year. It will also mean less days spent on testing–in theory, only about 5-7 days a year, as opposed to the 15+ currently. You can ask your school for a list of benchmark and state-standardized tests that will be administered for a school year since these are decided in advance, but schools do send this information out via flyers sent home or postings on school websites or calendars, so be sure you are getting their communications and that they have updated contact information.

As a teacher, I have addressed anxiety over testing, taught skills needed and struggled to maintain balance between enough emphasis but not too much, and I have paced the floors on testing days watching my students struggle or succeed. As a parent, I struggle to do the same in terms of providing both academic and emotional support to my biological kids. I have mixed feelings on testing, especially since I see the educational side, as well. So, here are a few things to know when thinking about testing.

STRESS/ANXIETY With all that rides on these scores in determining the future for both teachers and students, it’s no wonder so many stress over it and put so much focus on the test. Some may emphasize it more and create anxiety, while others may not put enough on it and take it for granted.

There are many ways to go about handling this. Some focus on additional tutoring/support, some on teaching testing techniques or stress management, some even opt out of testing all together.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT Just because a student needs additional support doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. We all have areas we must spend more time on or learn to take a different approach on. For some, this may be an extra class, or even a tutor to support them. As a parent, before deciding whether this is right or not, talk to the school and look at your child’s performance over time in that subject. If it has been a long term struggle, you already know. If it is a new struggle, figure out why. Study habits? Distractions? Attendance dropping? Content leveling up? These will help you decide what support is needed in a unified manner to best support your child’s needs.

STRESS MANAGEMENT If we are being honest, this is something we want our kids to learn early, but it may not always fit into a classroom curriculum. As a parent, we can look to help with this at home because they will be faced with stressful situations in life and will fare better if they learn to cope early. Books, classes, videos, role playing, sharing personal experience–these are all great options. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your child’s guidance counselor or to your pastor/preacher/clergy and they will help since they are trained in this area.

OPTING OUT Many districts don’t want you to do this, and some will tell you it isn’t even an option. Be aware that it is an option, but may not be the best. School grades and funding are tied to how many students test. If there are not enough, they don’t have the funds to support students, even if they are attending there. You can avoid impacting funding and your child can still participate by sitting in the test and breaking the seal, then opting to not work if this is something you are passionate about. If you are absolutely opposed to testing, make it known at the beginning to both school and administrators. This way they can keep a portfolio for promotion and you maintain a good rapport with the school. The school can also let you know if it will affect their seat for the following year since some schools will not let you come back if they opt out.

MEASUREMENTS The difference between FSA and benchmarks are many, but a big one is that benchmarks have a set score to reach but also focus on growth between tests to measure gains. The FSA had a set level for passing, but the score needed is a moving target and can change from year to year. It is based on comparisons to how everyone who took it scored, then it is set as to what scores are each level. Benchmarks will be administered as a pretest in the fall, a midyear assessment at the end of 1st semester, and a 3rd assessment shortly before testing/end of year. This gives a measure of growth and shows patterns for areas of struggle, success, or inconsistency to refine support. These results are available immediately and can show individual ratings as well as peer ratings within set groups (grade level, county, teacher, etc.) The FSA is given in the late spring and the results don’t come back for awhile.

IMPACT Other than the FSA test determining promotion/retention, it was also used to place in remedial or advanced classes. A little known fact, or maybe just not frequently thought about for many is the impact it could have long term. Students in 8th grade choose their high school path and courses in early 2nd semester–before they take the FSA in 8th grade. Which means their 7th grade scores are used to choose courses. Yes, they can be changed once scores come out, but if space is limited, it can be a difficult path to get them on a different track. For teachers, the students’ scores are used on their evaluations comparing students they had last year to the students they had this year. Also, if a teacher has more high performing students, there is less potential for growth, and if they scored a 5 there’s a greater risk they may score lower, which will show a loss instead of a gain. We all know that groups and situations can vary year to year. Also, the teachers that don’t teach testable subjects get the scores for someone else’s teaching used in their evaluations.

If you have concerns about testing, talk to your school, they are there to support your child, but they need to hear from you to know your views on how to do that, especially if there are differing viewpoints. If you are worried about your child’s stress levels over the test, find support for them. The ultimate goal is for them to succeed and be prepared to manage life and future jobs, so setting a good example for a positive approach to a difficult situation will help both now and later in life.

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