- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

I did something today I never had done before. I went to a home-school standardized achievement test site without apprehension. Was I that confident my child would do well? No, that's not it. For the first time since 1986, I did not have a child being tested. I was filling the role of test monitor rather than anxious mom.

What are standardized achievement tests anyway? Unlike aptitude or ability tests, achievement tests are designed to measure how well a student has mastered material he presumably has been taught.

This time of year, children all across the country take this type of test. For some, state home-school law requires them. For others, the tests may be used as tools to monitor academic progress. Regardless of the reason, the taking of standardized tests can be a traumatic experience for parent and student but especially for the parent. The children seem to do just fine.

So whether you find your child taking tests because they are mandatory or because you just want to see where your child's strengths and weaknesses lie, here are a few tips to use before the next test.

• Review the material the test will cover, using a test-preparation book. In my opinion, "Scoring High Test Preparation," published by McGraw Hill, is the best resource for preparing an elementary or junior high student for an achievement test. The program, designed to match specific tests, drills students in reading, math, language arts and study skills.

Spectrum Test Prep, also published by McGraw Hill, is another good choice because it gives students extra practice in the key subjects covered in the tests. This book easily can be worked into your daily school routine.

• If possible, arrange to test in a familiar place with someone your child knows. In the early 1980s, home-school testing sites were nonexistent, and Pennsylvania parents were prohibited from administering tests to their own children. In mandatory test years, home-schoolers found themselves at the local public school. At barely 8 years of age, my son Christopher was thrown into a school he had never visited, with a teacher he had never met and children he did not know. It was a traumatic experience, to say the least. Taking an achievement test can be difficult enough for a young child without compounding the problem with an unfamiliar environment.

• Whether testing in a group or at home, keep the room free of distractions. If at home, it might be a good idea to disconnect the phone. If you have younger children, you might want to take them to Grandma's house or make other arrangements to keep the noise level down. In a group setting, having scheduled breaks and requiring students to sit silently after completing each section of the test will help. The key is to keep noise and movement to a minimum.

• Prepare for testing by making sure your child gets a good night's sleep and eats a good breakfast high in protein and low in sugar. You want your child to be at his best, not sluggish from lack of sleep or lethargic because his blood-sugar levels have dropped after a carbohydrate-filled meal.

• Make sure your child has the proper test-taking equipment. Sharpened No. 2 pencils will be needed. Standardized tests are answered on machine-scored sheets. For the machine to detect an answer, the mark must be dark, and a No. 2 pencil will make dark marks without making the child press hard. A ruler will help the student keep his or her place while maneuvering through the lines of lettered dots. A watch will help the test-taker with time management, as each test battery is timed.

• See if your child can bring a book along to read if he or she finishes the test early. This can help children who can't seem to sit still once a test section is completed. Instead of shifting around in his or her seat or distracting students who are still working, your child can get immersed in a book.

• Find out whether snacks are permitted. The majority of tests are administered in the morning, when everyone is the most rested, but chances are breakfast was eaten early. To avoid a growling stomach or low blood-sugar levels, take along a snack your child can enjoy during a scheduled break.

• Don't just drop off your child at the test site and magically reappear several hours later. When your child has a break between test batteries, he or she more than likely will want to tell you how things are going and hear an encouraging word.

• Above all, try not to be anxious about the testing. If you are noticeably worried or nervous, your child will pick up on your emotions and enter the tests with anxiety. Let your child know you don't expect him or her to know the answer to every question presented. Some questions will be too easy, some will be at your child's level, and some he or she won't be expected to know.

Standardized tests should be used as tools to better hone your home-school program to meet your child's needs, not to validate your abilities as a teacher or the quality of your home education program. The bottom line: If your children do their best, they will be at the top of their class regardless of the test results.

Kim Huber, a mother of four children, has been home-schooling for 17 years. She and her husband serve on the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania's board of directors. She can be reached by e-mail ([email protected]).

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