Part 3 – Testing Series – College Entrance Exams

We had recently been reviewing the different types of scores that we find on standardized tests.  The two most common the percentile, and the grade equivalent were discussed in two previous posts.  There are other types of scores that are used on standardized tests, however, I feel that the two we discussed were the most common.

To finalize our series, I would like to bring a few thoughts about standardized tests themselves.  Of course, some of the most common grade school tests are the Stanford, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and Wechsler’s series.  However, one of the most important tests that we take before going to college is the college entrance exam.  The two most common of these tests are the ACT and the SAT.  Depending on where you live you may only have testing centers for one of these tests.  The southeast region where we live, uses almost solely the SAT college entrance exam.  These tests are comprehensive tests designed to let prospective colleges now how and if you are prepared to begin formal study with them.

Sadly though, students today have developed great anxiety and fear associated with these tests. There’s really no reason for this.  The SAT and ACT can be retaken several times if the scores are not acceptable.  So many young people are given heavy expectations to perform a certain way, or to enter “ivy league” schools.  Having high goals is not wrong, but it is a sad day when we have teenagers dealing with huge amounts of stress because of them.  If you are in this situation now, take a moment to step back and see the big picture.  If it really is your heart’s desire to attend a college that requires very high scores on college entrance exams.  Just relax, and start preparing. 

There are many stress free ways that a student can prepare for these tests – but it takes time. You can begin by purchasing the test prep books from the test developers, you could hire a tutor, or find a few great online sites.  There are several that I use to help students who come to me for “test prep.”  I like  A Major tests for word lists and short practice tests, Time4Writing for essay prep, and many other sites to download and print out practice tests.  Start early, prepare thoroughly, and refuse to allow stress to hinder you from performing at your best!

Part 2: Grade Equivalent Scores

Welcome to Part 2 of our Standardized Test Miniseries. We hope to explain Grade Equivalent Scores in an easy to understand – English speaking – plain word – way. In my experience as an Elementary School Administrator, the grade equivalent scores seemed to be the ones most misunderstood py parents. Our school was a private school that used the ABEKA curriculum. Typically schools using this and other similar curriculum across all grade levels have higher SAT scores than the average public schools. This is great for the child – they are challenged and seem to achieve by leaps and bounds. However, when the parents receive the score reports and automatically think because their fifth grade child scored a Grade Equivalent of 6.8 they should be advanced to sixth grade – – we have problems.

Having a grade equivalent score above the child’s actual grade is not uncommon. However, the grade equivalent score simply tells us how an average student would do on that fifth grade work. So, if your fifth grader made the score 6.8 (which means sixth grade eighth month) – that tells us that an average sixth grader in the eighth month of school would do just as well as your child did on that FIFTH grade test. The comparison criteria or reference here is the TEST that the child took.

So you see, the “Principal, I think my child needs moved up a grade…” mindset just won’t work – the child has not encountered sixth grade work on his Standardized test – besides the other ramifications of social maturity, etc., etc., must always be considered. Again, the importance of examining many aspects of a child’s achievement are important in assessing the child. Don’t over-rely on one test score.

How do you like your “percentile?”

No, it’s not a fancy kind of ceramic flooring.  Really it’s a type of score used on a standardized achievement test. The percentile has a few common friends like the GE, the stanine, and the SAI.  With names like that our mini-series ought to be pretty interesting! In case you missed the last post – we at Online Education for Kids are going to start our own mini-series on testing. We hope you can join us!

Well to begin – I can’t even talk about standardized tests without voicing my opinion about them. Standardized tests can be used as a very effective tool in educating children.  Yet, to me a problem arises when over-reliance or over-emphasis is placed on this or any ONE test’s results. Keep in mind that standardized testing can be limited in their reliability. It is one test taken on ONE day or a FEW days for several hours a day.  A child’s physical or mental condition could drastically affect the score. Sick? Tired? Missed breakfast? Stressed? Test Anxiety? All of these are reasons for us to remember that it is only “one” test. In determining a child’s progress or achievement we must look at every aspect of his or her life. OK, now that I have that off my chest – just what exactly is a percentile?

A percentile is probably the most commonly used score among educators for discussing results of standardized achievement tests. The percentile is often confused with a percent grade, but it is really a different creature. The percentile means “per hundred” and is a rank measurement with the average score being 50. For example, the score 76 percentile, simply means that for the 100 students used as the “standardized” or test group – your child scored higher than 76 of them.  Or to reverse it – there are 76 students in the “norm” group that scored lower than your child.  Since the average score is 50 this means that your child is somewhat above average.  Due to the fact that standardized tests are “norm referenced” they can be compared to different tests that are also “norm referenced.” So in a sense your percentile score is portable. If your child takes another norm referenced test you can compare the scores.  Just in case you’re wondering what “norm referenced” means – test makers compare student test scores to a predetermined “norm” group of students. They used this group to “test” the test as it was being created.  It is kinda like holding up a yardstick – the same yardstick – to see how every child measures up.  The uses for this are limitless – but obviously can help the child’s parents or teacher determine where weak areas are or where the child may need a bit of review.

Hope you join us next week for the next installment of the Testing mini-series!

P.S. Here I go one more time 🙂 – Again, any test is simply a tool to give educators or parents an idea of where the child is achieving compared to that yardstick.  Under no condition should a life changing decision be made based upon one test. Protect those children – they are a wonderful work in progress.

Spring will be here soon… and so will Standardized Testing!

In the next several weeks, I would like to start my own mini-series.  No, it won’t be as interesting as the ones you find on television –     I.     AM.   SURE.    But, hopefully it will be more helpful.  During the years I spent as an administrator, I was often suprised by the confusion and misunderstanding that surrounds standardized testing.  It is definitely an area that speaking “Plain English” would be useful.  Well, that’s my goal – to reveal the “secrets” of the standardized test …  wow  –  sounds really impressive.  I hope to throw in a few SAT prep pointers as well.  So, don’t go away – the mini – series is about to begin!

Keeping it between the lines…

As the leader of our local homeschool group, I have been asked several times recently how parents can keep up with where their child is “at” vs. where their child “should be.” Since there are so many different types of homeschooling, the method used to homeschool will directly influence where the child should be.  This is really a tricky question and one that I try to be careful in answering. Really it boils down to  … answering the question with a question… “According to whom?”
Homeschooling types range from the “unschoolers” or Charlote Mason styles all the way to the very structured classroom at home approaches. Obviously, the “unschoolers” would not be concerned as much about whether or not their child was meeting the “typical” or “normal” standards for their age. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a negative comment, I have seen this work! The unschooler is not concerned with the “increments” as much as he is with the overall picture of education. Often these children learn in chunks and will study a subject exhaustively, and then move on to another. The unschooled homeschooler usually not only meets the standards, but also EXCEEDS them.
Which makes me ask, “What is all the hype about standards for anyway?” It’s a take it or leave it situation. Some parents like to know that they are meeting or exceeding the “standardized guidelines”  – others could definitely leave it.  For those who want to take it – there are several reasons that they crave guidance. Some people like standards because they have difficulty judging the scope and sequence of their child’s education and therefore need the standards to act as a goal or bullseye. Some are just beginning their homeschooling journey and the standards or framework make them feel secure and confident that their child is getting what they need.
Either way, here are a few ways for you to keep track of where you child falls in regards to the “standards”: (definitely not an exhaustive resource on this subject.)

  1. Know the national standards for your child’s age/grade. This is kinda tough for the beginning homeschool parent. Most of the standards are in “high folutin'” language. There are some education sites that will summarize these for you.
  2.  Use a “graded” homeschool curriculum. This just means that the company that developed the curriculum used the national standards and based the levels of their curriculum on school grades. This will help those parents concerned with standards to have an easy solution to knowing where their children are “at” or what they “should be” doing.
  3.  Use a Standards based electronic, DVD or online curriculum. This method is really the simplest solution for beginning shomeschoolers and others who are deeply concerned about performing at level. the online curricula is typically not only standards based, but usually will have parent tracking features that help with grading and monitoring your student’s progress.
  4. Get them tested. If none of these ideas fit into your style of homeschooling, but you still want to know where your student is at, have them tested. Homeschool your student as you see fit, and then have them take a standardized achievement test. Most states require this from their homeschoolers at least every 3 years. A few of the more common standardized achievement tests are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the Stanford Achievement Test, and the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills. There are several more tests that you can read about here.

Hopefully these few ideas will answer the questions.  Whatever your homeschool style, wherever you are, you are doing an admirable thing. You are making a difference in the life of your child!