Spring is here, and with it comes assessments. For third through eighth graders, that means the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). For high school juniors, that means the SAT.
Just like some schools may play up the assessments with pep rallies and such while others treat them as simply another test, some students may take assessments in stride while others stress out about them. Whichever reaction your child has, here are things you can do to help them prepare.
Understand the Role of Assessments
It is important for families to understand the role of assessments. The state of Illinois only requires one set of assessments—PARCC, the SAT, and the Illinois Science Assessment (ISA) in fifth and eighth grades and high school biology.
The additional assessments that your child takes are determined by your school district, and concerns you have with excessive assessments beyond the once-a-year state assessments should be directed towards your district. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has piloted the Illinois Student Assessment Inventory to help school districts reduce the number of assessments that they use by eliminating those that do not inform student instruction or overlap with other assessments.
The PARCC assessment tests students’ ability to apply what they’ve learned, not just report back facts they have learned. Likewise, the PARCC assessment report provides more information to both families and teachers on where students are struggling. A recent survey found that 90% of parents believe their child is performing at or above grade level in reading and 85% say their child is on track to meet learning goals and grade level expectations; however, in fact only 34% of eighth graders are reading at or above grade level according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The PARCC assessment provides you with the information you need to know if how you think your child is doing in school is actually true.
Finally, understand that how assessments are used to evaluate how your child’s school is performing has changed under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA has given the states the duty of determining how they measure school performance, and Illinois is using the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM). Under ESSA, schools that are identified as struggling are targeted for additional support, not the punitive measures that were enacted under No Child Left Behind for schools that didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Helping Your Child with Test Anxiety
Illinois PTA has shared information on how to help your child deal with anxiety in a general sense, but even kids without anxiety issues can feel anxious about a test, whether it is the PARCC, SAT, or a regular math test. The suggestions for dealing with general anxiety still apply with test anxiety, but there are other things that can help as well.
Familiarity with what the test will be asking can help. PARCC has practice tests available, as does the SAT. Good study skills and a plan to prepare help as well. Great Schools also has a short two-minute video on things you can do to help your child with text anxiety.
Resources are Available to Help You
There are many additional resources out there to help you help understand what your child needs to know to meet their grade-level expectations.
- National PTA has both the Parents’ Guides to Student Success and state-specific Parents’ Guide to Assessment (Illinois).
- Be A Learning Hero, in partnership with National PTA, continues to provide great resources for families regarding standards, assessments, and the biggest concerns that families have regarding their children.
- Great Schools has state- and grade-specific test guides for parents.
- National PTA collaborated with Univision Communications, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Great Schools, and many other non-profit organizations to create the mobile-optimized Clave al Éxito (Key to Success) Spanish-language site to help Hispanic families to support their children’s education, including standards and assessments. The site is also available in English.
- The Real Learning for Real Life Coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member, has a large collection of resources to help families with standards and assessments.
- ISBE has created PARCC Place as a clearinghouse for all information on the PARCC assessment in Illinois.
- PARCC itself has information for families regarding the assessment, including practice tests, information on accommodations, and understanding your child’s scores.