By Dr. Raymond Huntington
When your child has a stuffy nose and persistent cough, chances are your doctor will use a thermometer and stethoscope for a careful diagnosis before determining how to treat the ailment.
You should review the results of your child’s next “big test” in the very same way. Instead of simply saying “congratulations” for a good grade or “study harder” because of a bad one, look beyond the score to identify specific learning problems, and take positive steps to strengthen the skills and knowledge that will help your child improve. This is particularly important in today’s “high stakes” academic environment, which is defined by specific standards for what every child should achieve before being promoted to the next grade. Here’s a simple checklist to help you keep track.
Pay attention to statewide tests.
In the fall and spring of each school year, schools across your state are required to give students tests to measure proficiency in meeting standards for what every child should know and learn in core academic subjects. Public schools adopt such standards in reading and math in grades three through eight, which are formative years for building basic skills that are crucial for higher level learning. Most states, schools and school systems also have rigorous subject matter standards for higher grades. These standards are developed largely by organizations dedicated to fostering excellent teaching and learning, such as The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.
Because these statewide tests measure student performance toward these standards, it’s important to pay close attention to the results. If your child performed well on the test in the fall, you can be reasonably assured that he or she has the academic grounding to handle grade-level work throughout the rest of the year. If not, you need to closely review his or her performance on the test and identify and address the problem areas immediately.
Maintain contact with teachers.
Once you become aware of the trouble spots that signify that your child may not be performing at the level that’s expected, set up a meeting with his or her teacher to discuss how to bring skills up to speed. If your child is struggling as a reader, for example, the teacher should determine what types of special assignments can build the skills needed to keep pace. The same is true for mathematics, history, social studies and virtually every other subject. Teachers can likewise offer suggestions on how to nurture and hone special aptitudes that may qualify your child for accelerated learning opportunities that can enhance preparation for higher education.
Look at academic performance school-wide.
In addition to being useful barometers of individual student success, tests given in the fall and spring also impact the annual U.S. Department of Education “report cards” that signify every school’s success in maintaining and raising achievement among students overall. As a parent, you should be interested in this information, but you should also be aware that lower rankings for a school as a whole may not mean failure on behalf of all students. Many schools are improving significantly, and many are also going to great lengths to provide additional help for students with special learning needs. What’s most important is knowing that the school and teachers are committed to seeing your child succeed.
Keep a constant vigil
While the statewide fall and spring tests represent a good view of academic performance over the span of the school year, the everyday tests given by your child’s teachers are the best indicator of day to day progress. Instead of simply cheering an “A” or a “B” or threatening “no videogames for a week” for a “D,” look carefully at the specific areas where your child excelled or struggled. An excellent response to an essay question, for example, could show a special aptitude for writing, reading and debating that could be nurtured with AP and honors classes. Multiple errors on a math test could likewise call for special help to master basic computation skills before your child moves on to algebra and geometry.
Either way, it’s important to look beyond the grade to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses that are impacting your child’s achievement – and find the right treatment for addressing them long before the next big test comes around.
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Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has been helping children succeed in school for more than 26 years. For more information about Huntington, call 1-800-CAN LEARN.