Standardized Tests Don't Tell the Whole Story

Dear Dr. Linda,

I just received my son’s state test scores from last spring when he was a fifth grader. His score placed him in the middle of Level 4 for math and in the middle of Level 2 for ELA. He scored average on the reading section, but below average on the writing section. What should I be doing to help him improve his writing? Also, will this score be on his permanent record?


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Dear Rob,

No, these results will not be part of your son’s official transcript or permanent student record. They are administered simply to provide teachers and parents an assessment of where the child is at a point in time so instruction can be modified to meet his/her unique situation.

These tests are given to protect the child. For example, if, as you say, your son scored in the middle of Level 2 on the ELA and the writing section of the test lowered his score, it’s important information for you and his teachers to know, but it doesn’t answer the question of how to help him improve. The next step would be to determine why, by taking a step back and asking more questions. Did he score lower on writing simply because he ran out of time? Does he tend to be nervous about taking the state tests? Has he learned how to write a paper? There are many reasons students score below average on sections of state and other standardized tests. Before any attempts at remediation are made, the reasons underlying the lower score need to be determined.

I worked with a third grader years ago who scored in the low 2 range on the ELA, pulled down by his scores on reading comprehension. As a result, he was being pulled out of class to meet with the reading teacher—missing class instruction and making it up with homework. We discovered that this sad little guy’s reading was perfectly fine. The problem was that he rushed through the test because he was afraid he’d miss recess.

The state tests don’t, and can’t, tell the whole story. With that said, most of the time, they DO prevent children with learning gaps that would otherwise go undetected from slipping through the cracks. There’s a reason only reading, writing and arithmetic are assessed—they are the foundations of all future learning. You can’t teach higher level material to students if they don’t know and understand the basics, and the earlier the gaps are revealed, the easier it is to intervene.

First, talk to your son and see if he can remember what he was thinking and doing at the time. He may not have understood what he was supposed to be doing. He may not have understood the directions. He may not have learned (or been taught) how to organize his thoughts in a paper. His handwriting may be so poor that it’s difficult to read.

Contact the school counselor and ask what they do for children who receive 1s or 2s on state tests. (Usually, those students are given extra help.) If your son resists help in school because he’s embarrassed or missing activities in the regular classroom, seek help outside the school.

Dr. Linda

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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