What you can do to adequately prepare your children for standardized tests (those anxiety-inducing things that seem to take on greater import every year) no matter your budget or child's learning style.
Nothing churns the waves of apprehension in kids (and parents!) quite like the term "standardized test." Despite the acknowledgement that standardized testing is often not an accurate indicator of a student's intelligence, it's still not at all uncommon for students to begin prepping for the SATs well before high school even starts.
All controversy aside, standardized testing persists, and the results are often an indicator of a school district's success. While institutions like the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) use standardized tests to measure school performance, teaching practice, and educational methods, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is a nonprofit organization that administers such undergraduate tests as the SAT and PSAT that can help determine a student's collegiate future. Additionally, in New York City, if parents want to send their child to private school, they have to worry about entrance exams.
The reality: Like it or not, standardized testing is here to stay, and will occur nearly every year of a student's pre-college academic career. Read on for a list of suggestions and tips for navigating test season.
What should I do if I have a limited budget?
For Jacqueline Wayans, the assignment editor at InsideSchools.org, her test prep options were limited from the start. As a former stay-at-home mom with a low budget, Wayans couldn't afford private school for her children and wasn't in a position to move her family to another borough with better public schools.
"My income was less than low, so I didn't have the options to make better educational choices for my youngest daughter," Wayans says. "One thing that's helpful in NYC is a lot of high schools provide the PSATs for freshman and sophomores before they take the SAT. We're very aware here at Inside Schools that some parents will have kids in tutoring for the SATs from middle school. For parents who cannot afford to do that, there may be an option to take free prep courses at your child's school. There are a lot of high schools that provide test prep during the school year."
Wayans also discussed an option for families who may not be able to afford paying for their child's SAT testing.
For this, Wayans suggests using government subsidies and fee waivers: "Sometimes if parents are already getting government support, they can get an SAT waiver and the student's guidance counselor will provide the student with a code so the SAT fare will be waived. This is an especially good idea for students who want to take the exam more than once," Wayans says. "For
students who can't afford prep, they can even treat the SAT test itself like prep using the SAT government waivers. But it falls to the parents to follow test prep dates. Start when your kids are freshmen so there's time for students to prepare using school prep classes, fee wavers, and practice booklets."
Jonathan Kramer, principal of St. Mary's High School in Manhasset, recommends taking advantage of free online SAT preparation websites.
"There are many websites that are completely free and help track students' progress," Kramer says. "They put the student at the level that they are on, and advance them at just the right speed. The one that we use is TCA prep. It's completely free. Any student can go on it and use the free solution. It will give them 24-hour access to take sample tests, and it goes through the vocabulary and the math portions with them."
How do I prep my young child for Gifted and Talented entrance exams?
For some lower-income parents with children they'd like to send to private schools but can't afford to, Wayans describes her own experience, which involved finding gifted-and-talented schools for lower-income students, and making learning a part of her children's everyday routine. "A friend told me about a gifted-and-talented school called TAG, Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars, at 240 E. 109th Street, in Harlem," she says. "There are five schools: Three are in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and one in Queens."
"I also found that you could order old entrance tests online. You just work on it together at home. I worked on it from the standpoint of 'let's get comfortable'—not, 'Are the answers right?' Parents can also order old test guides online and go through them with their child at home. I also encourage parents to regularly visit bookstores and readings with their children, or go to museums. That was really helpful for me."
Wayans suggests being strategic when choosing the right school for your child, should he or she need a more flexible environment.
"My middle child was a different type of learner. I thought, 'We're going to have to do a Central Park East school.' At some schools (like Central Park East), they would test the child more liberally. It wasn't a rigid bubble—they get a sense of what the child's learning style is. It was a really good match for her. What I learned from that process was that each child is very different and that we do need to have a number of offerings for how our children learn."
She continues, "Take advantage of the tours and open houses for different private schools. When you do that, you'll get some inside information regarding how they handle entrance exams, especially during the Q&As. They'll tell you how heavily they weigh math over English, and so on."
What should I do if my child has special needs or is a poor test-taker?
Alvin Dicker from Dicker Reading Method in Scarsdale argues that test prep for students with special needs is about adjusting one's attitude as a parent and reinforcing learning techniques at home.
"We work with ADD, ADHD, and learning-disabled students. When they're reading a paragraph, they have a very hesitant reading style. I train the parents to work together with us as a team. I train the parents in the techniques of the program and [how] to shift their attitude from 'I can't' to 'I can.' In my program we're dissecting the whole story, teaching them all of the skills necessary for answering reading comprehension questions."
"I have sessions for parents, too," Dicker adds. "The parents can learn our teaching techniques so they can reinforce the learning at home. I also ask them to try to take out the element of struggle that exists in helping their kids improve. It's about love, relationships, and making it fun for the kids. It's not a lecture. It's about shifting the parents' attitude about learning with their child."
Wayans also recommends that parents not attempt to hide their child's special needs from the school, instead bringing the teachers and administrators fully into the loop so they can help the child accordingly. "One of the things parents can do is to make teachers and administrators aware of any special needs your child may have. You really need to bring those needs to the attention of the school."
There are even times when a child may not have a diagnosed learning disorder, but he needs extra time for test-taking. "The school guidance counselor can help work that out for them," Wayans says. "They will be able to figure out very quickly if the child is a poor test taker. The sooner they can address that, the sooner they can create an environment for the actual SAT class, whether they're given extra time or are in a room with fewer people in it."
What if my family is strapped for time?
With families dashing around trying to make it to multiple activities on the calendar, Wayans stresses that it's the parents' responsibility to keep track of the PSAT/SAT schedule, because chances are that testing isn't particularly high on the typical high school student's priority list. "When you're talking about after-school activities, PSAT/SAT prep is one of those things where parents really have to keep an eye out and stay engaged for when the school is providing prep courses"-because your kids will be thinking about soccer and music lessons. It's your job to help nudge your child in the right direction.