Testing 101: What Parents Need to Know

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Parents, it’s that dreaded time of year.  TESTING. Yep!  It’s upon us!  BUT- this year is different and you need to be informed of the changes.  As an educator, I’m at a loss.  The testing was bad before, but it seems to be getting worse (in my opinion).  Here are some things you need to know about this year’s testing as well as some strategies to help your child be successful when it comes to standardized tests. ~Erica McCall

Test taking 101Test basics

ACT® Aspire™ English language arts (writing, English, reading) and mathematics tests will be administered statewide to students in grades 3–8 for the first time in spring 2015.

ACT Aspire Spring 2015 Test Administration Schedule
Grades 3–8 Test Date Time Limit*
Writing April 28 (Tuesday) 30 min., grades 3–8
English April 28 (Tuesday) 30 min., grades 3–5; 35 min., grades 6–8
Reading April 29 (Wednesday) 60 min., grades 3–8
Mathematics April 30 (Thursday) 55 min., grades 3–5; 60 min., grades 6 & 7; 65 min., grade 8
Make-up Testing through May 13

*Note: The ACT Aspire assessments are timed tests.

Yes.  You read that correctly.  TIMED.  THIRTY MINUTES!  I don’t know about you, but I don’t really think an 8-year old kid should be expected to write an essay on a prompt (which they’ve never heard before) in just thirty minutes.  Sure they’ll get one written, but will it be organized?  Will they have all the correct capitalization and punctuation?  Will they remember to check for spelling errors?  They won’t have time to work through the writing process so they’ll have to check as they go.

Math is a little better with 55 minutes, but let’s look at some of the sample questions.  (You can see these and more at http://www.discoveractaspire.org/assessments/test-items/)

5th Grade Question:  “A student thinks that the sum of 4.3 and 8.4 is 12.7 because 4+8=12 and 3+4=7. The student then adds 3.7 and 2.6 and gets 5.13 because 3+2=5 and 6+7=13. Identify the mistake in the student’s procedure and explain why this procedure won’t always work.”

Their description of a response that would receive full credit: “The student didn’t pay attention to place value and added the tenths place wrong. 0.6 + 0.7 = 1.3.  The student’s procedure won’t always work because if you add numbers by place value and get a number greater than 9, you must carry to the next largest place value.”

Now, I do NOT think this question is out of the realm of possible for a fifth grader who is working on grade level.  However, they have approximately two minutes per question to determine what it’s asking, solve, write the answer, and explain.

An example 8th grade problem asks the student to choose all of the irrational numbers and lists 8 square roots to choose from. (See page 16 of the Math Exemplar for the question.)


If it were me, I’d be panicking the whole time that I’d picked one too many or one too few, because that’s just how my luck tends to run.  I’d probably have been correct all along, but then clicked an extra or unclicked one just because I couldn’t decide how many correct answers to go with.

Here’s one for third grade: After Cammy gets out of bed in the morning, she completes several activities to get ready for school.  The list below shows the numbers of minutes she needs to complete each of these activities. *30 minutes: brush teeth, shower, and get dressed; *10 minutes: eat breakfast; *30 minutes: car ride to school.  Cammy must be at school by 8:00 a.m What is the latest time Cammy can get out of bed, complete all her activities, and still get to school on time?  Explain why your answer is correct.”

Now, again, I do NOT think this one is too hard for my third graders to do, but I DO think it’s a little much for them to do in under an average of 2 minutes per question.


Find another example of a 3rd grade math problem on page 40 of the Math Exemplar. This one begins, “A total of 8 students decorated the front surface of 2 different bulletin boards, 1 in the computer and 1 in the library . . .”


Hang on…… I’m solving……..

So what’s the point?

My point with these examples is that the tests are not written in a kid-friendly language nor are the testing times reasonable for their ages.  I agree, the kids get test fatigue at a certain point, but geez!  Let’s not give them extra anxiety as the antidote for fatigue!  They’ve also already completed MAP testing earlier in the year (twice) in those grades.  We’re just piling it on our kiddos!

If you’re scratching your head a little bit over this, too… or even shaking your fist in the air… please let your voice be heard!  Check out what the parents in NY did when they reached the ends of their ropes!  http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/thousands-boycott-state-mandated-exams-article-1.2185411

Here in SC, you can call the Office of Assessment in Columbia at 803-734-8649 or email Sheila Graybeal at [email protected].  They need to hear our voices on testing before this continues past this year!

Ok so now that we’re prepared to discuss what should and shouldn’t continue next year, what the what should we do about testing this year?!

How to prepare for the test

Here are some strategies to be sure your children do their best on the test (regardless of how awesome that test is or isn’t):

  • Eat a healthy breakfast. A healthy breakfast is going to include all of the food groups.  Sugar isn’t a food group, so actually cook these mornings instead of reaching for the pop tarts.  Eggs, toast, milk, ham, sausage, turkey, fruit – all of these are great selections for breakfast before testing.  They need to stay full and focused, and despite the commercials’ claims, that frosted wheat cereal isn’t going to accomplish that.
  • Come prepared. Students need sharpened #2 pencils.  If you want to be a rock star parent, send in a pack or two of presharpened pencils for the class.  The teacher will probably hug you.
  • Talk to your kids. Prepare them for the best and the worst.  Talk about what doing their best means and how you understand they’ll be stressed and rushed on the test.  Let them know you’re on their side no matter what.  It’ll help take some of the pressure off!
  • Review study skills with your child. Remind them about taking their time to read carefully, underline key words, cross out answers they know are incorrect to eliminate choices.  All of these things can help your child to work through carefully and do their best.
  • Change your language. Instead of asking how it went when they get in the car, tell them that you already know they did a great job and you’re going to have a dance party in the car on the way home to celebrate.  Why?  They most likely have no idea how they really did unless they just bombed it… and knowing they bombed it isn’t going to improve anyone’s day.
  • Do a quick review each night. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Cramming never works!  Doing a quick (as in about ten minutes… maybe fifteen) review the night before a test will help remind them of all the things they remember from earlier in the year.  A longer one will remind them of all that they’ve forgotten and can’t cram into their brains in one night.  Keep it short and sweet to keep from adding any more test anxiety than they’ll already face!

I wish you and your students the best of luck!  I’d love to hear back if any of you call Columbia to discuss better ways to test!

Happy testing, Greenville!

Meet Erica
IMG_0435_200pxErica McCall is the mom of one hilariously adorable toddler, is in her tenth year of teaching, and loves getting lost inside the adventures of a good book. She and her hubby/best friend were both born and raised in Greenville and they hope to one day have a few acres on which to build their dream home. You can connect with her via her blog, Shelfari, Pinterest.
About the Author
Elizabeth Faulkner, her husband and two young daughters moved back to Greenville in 2013 after spending over a decade in Charlotte and 3 years in the Dallas, Texas area. When first arriving in our area she spent four years working with the staff at Kidding Around Greenville. During that time, she was able to explore the area and build a wealth of local knowledge about all things family related! Prior to working at KAG she spent many years working in marketing at several large corporations, including Verizon Wireless and Strayer University. With her local knowledge, marketing skills and history of buying and selling homes in various states she decided to transition to a career in real estate. Elizabeth is now in her 5th year working as a local real estate agent and is loving every minute of it! In her real estate career, Elizabeth enjoys meeting new people and helping them achieve their housing goals. She loves helping families moving into the area learn their way around the Upstate and find the right spot for them. She also enjoys helping folks who have been here for years sell their home and move on to their next home or phase of life! Elizabeth takes great pride in working hard and providing top-notch service to her clients. Her goal is to make the buying and selling process a smooth one for each and every client she serves! To contact Elizabeth, call 864.414.2434.

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