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Parents Should do their Homework before School Testing
3/1/2013 9:30:27 AM

"Test prep happens throughout the year,” said Beth Benoit, a counselor at W.W. Lewis Middle School in Sulphur. Teachers familiarize students with the format of the tests and work with them to improve their skills, and that can alleviate some of the stress that students may tend to feel during testing.

On March 19, fourth and eighth graders will take part of the math and English exams on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, or LEAP. The remainder of LEAP, which includes additional math and English, along with science and social studies, will be given April 8-11. Students in Louisiana schools will not move on to the fifth or ninth grades unless they score at or above the basic achievement level on either the English language arts or mathematics component and at the approaching basic achievement level on the other.

Students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7, will take integrated LEAP, or iLEAP, on April 8-11. In Calcasieu Parish, second grade students take ITBS during that same testing period. Neither the iLEAP exam nor the ITBS is tied to promotions.

With high stakes testing, some students do put stress on themselves, Benoit said. "But we encourage them to stay calm and to do their best,” she added.

Preparation for LEAP and iLEAP is much more than just a two-week period before the test, Benoit said. Throughout the year, students learn test-taking tips, and they learn to answer constructed response questions in the correct manner. Benoit is a former math teacher, and when she taught, she handed out a Mathematics Reference Sheet, so students could become accustom to using it during the year. The reference sheet, which includes formulas and other information, is given out to students when they take the math part of the LEAP or iLEAP.

During testing week, most parents are good about insuring that students are in school and on time. "Attendance is better during testing week than any other time,” Benoit said. "Kids know they have to be here.”

Renee Reina, owner of Sylvan Learning Center in Lake Charles, said that since teachers work with students on skills as well as strategies, students should not be ill-prepared to take the standardized tests. "Most anxiety about testing comes from being ill-prepared,” Reina said. "When anxiety is present, most clear judgment is gone.”

Reina said parents should have healthy expectations as to how a child will perform on a test. If the child is struggling in school, they are likely to struggle on the test. However, students doing well in school should do well on the test.

Parents can take steps to help their children during testing periods. Students shouldn’t be playing in a ballgame at 9 p.m. during LEAP testing, Reina said. They should eat a good breakfast and be at school on time.

"If there is fussing and fighting going on when the child is being dropped off at school, that is not good for the child,” Reina added.

Parents should educate themselves on what the test results mean. "Have someone interpret the results for you and educate you on what those results indicate,” she said.

Reina said test prep is important for students, "but it can’t be presented with fear.” Students who are overly anxious about failing the LEAP tests must overcome that fear. When parents are educated about the testing and understand the format of the test, they can help their children by reassuring them and encouraging them. Students who have the proper tools, who know test taking strategies, and who have learned the skills will be more confident and will perform better on tests.

Martha Dalton, owner of Mathnasium in Lake Charles, said when students are functioning below their grade level, it’s not necessarily a quick fix, and it can be frustrating. When parents get test results and students aren’t performing at the expected levels, they should begin the process of helping those students gain better skills, and in turn, more confidence.

"The first step is assessing where the students are,” Dalton said. "If the student is in the fifth grade but working at a third grade level, it’s very frustrating for the student.”

It may take time to bring a student to a level where the student becomes more confident in his or her ability. "But parents need to realize that they didn’t develop those gaps overnight,” she said.

When students are preparing for spring testing and need to bring their skills up dramatically, it may be difficult to do that in a short time. If students begin working in a tutoring program in January, their skills are likely to improve somewhat, but if they begin later in February or in March, it would be difficult to see much improvement.

Ideally, Dalton said, students who score poorly on standardized tests in the spring will begin working on improving their skills in the summer. During that time, students won’t be saddled with regular classroom homework while they are also getting tutored to bring up skills.

In math, Dalton said, there is sometimes an over-reliance on procedures, and students don’t necessarily understand the math. For example, if a student is trying to learn percentages, Mathnasium explains that percent means "for each hundred.” With that understanding, students can think of 200 as two sets of 100. Therefore, if a student is trying to determine 25 percent of 200, they think of 25 for the first hundred and 25 for the second hundred, so 25 percent of 200 is 50.

When students are already anxious about taking a test, and then they have to remember a procedure, that may make them even more anxious, Dalton said. They can’t just memorize the procedure or the rule; they must understand the math behind it. "That is critical for students taking tests,” she said, "and that can help them overcome math anxiety.”

Other test preparation recommendations by Benoit, Reina, and Dalton include:

· Make sure students get a good night’s sleep.

· Don’t encourage students to cram the night before testing begins.

· If students are nervous or anxious, encourage them to take some deep breaths and try to relax.

· On constructed response questions, students should do as much as they can. Even if they are not sure they know the correct answer, they should put something down on paper, because they may at least get partial credit.

· On multiple choice questions, if students are having trouble determining the correct answer, have them eliminate any answers that they know are incorrect first.

Posted by: Ann McMurry | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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