The Importance of State Testing

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Public school students throughout the U.S. are required to take standardized tests to find out if they’ve mastered grade-level skills. State tests play an important role in measuring learning progress—complementing grades and other assessments to paint a fuller picture of a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. It’s helpful for Learning Coaches and students to understand the goals of standardized testing, why the results matter, and how state testing can benefit students in the long run.

What Is State Testing?

Standardized tests—meaning tests where all students respond to the same set of questions—have been a part of life in American schools since the turn of the 20th century. First used to assess college students and military recruits, the concept soon spread to elementary and secondary (middle and high school) education.

Flash forward to today, where federal law requires states to test students in grades 3-8  in reading and math. High school students are required to be tested once in each subject. Students must also take a test in science at least once in grade school, middle school, and high school.

Most states choose to also test students in other areas such as writing skills. Standardized tests vary from state to state, which is one reason that the practice is commonly referred to as state testing. In some states, the tests are linked to meeting Common Core Standards (CCSS).

Students complete the same set of test questions (multiple choice, short written, or essay) that are scored in the same way. Individually and as a cohort, student performance at each grade level is evaluated.

The results are used to help guide local improvements in how students are taught and to help determine learning supports for students who need them. State tests can also identify gifted students who are ready for advanced coursework.  

What Are the Goals of State Testing?

Evaluating students in core subjects like reading and math provides a snapshot of academic progress across a state, between districts, and in individual schools. The goals of state testing include:

Identifying academic strengths and weaknesses.

Just as doctors can conduct tests to check up on a person’s overall health, state tests can be used by educators to recognize skill deficits or advanced mastery in a student. After evaluating a student through standardized tests, steps can be taken by teachers and Learning Coaches to remedy deficits with new learning strategies or challenges.   

Ensuring educational equity.

An important measure of public education success is how well all students master state academic standards. State testing helps to pinpoint knowledge disparities brought on by socio-economic conditions, racial bias, learning disorders, or English proficiency. That insight can lead to strategies and solutions to help level the playing field for all students.

Predicting future academic results.

State testing data is part of the puzzle that can predict the educational outcomes of students, such as high school graduation. One study found that test scores can predict student success as early as the third grade. Along with grades, classroom participation, and other components, state tests help inspire innovation that can lead to school improvements and better educational outcomes for all students.

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Does State Testing Benefit Students?

Now that the basics of state testing and its goals have been laid out, you might be wondering how it can benefit a student. Standardized testing doesn’t paint a full picture of a student’s abilities, but it does provide information helpful to their academic growth.

State testing can benefit students by:

  • Letting them “show what they know” in a variety of subjects so that they get the help they need in some areas or take on more challenging work in others
  • Making them experienced test-takers and building confidence that they can perform well under pressure
  • Encouraging them to set personal academic goals that can be achieved with the help of teachers and Learning Coaches
  • Preparing them for the rigors of college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT

It’s fair to point out that state testing can also have a downside for students. Examples include:

  • Reduced confidence in students who don’t meet benchmarks
  • Increased stress and test anxiety

How Do State Tests Affect a Student’s Future?

While students won’t “get in trouble” for not meeting standards, state tests can have direct and indirect effects on shaping a student's future. Policies and guidelines vary but, in some states, test scores can be a factor in promotion to the next grade level or a passing score could be a requirement for high school graduation.

Some colleges consider state test scores during the admissions process. If a student performs well on state tests it can be an indicator of readiness for college-level work. In students who aren’t university-bound, performance can point to vocational careers that might be a good fit. 

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How to Prepare Students for State Testing

Getting ready for state tests is equal parts knowledge practice and mental preparation. Learning Coaches can offer support in both areas.

Practice the Material

Keep in mind that students are being tested on what they’ve already learned over the course of a school year. Good ways to reinforce skills and review material include:

  • Going over basic math facts such as multiplication and division that are the foundation of solving math problems; use flash cards if available
  • Asking them questions about books they’re currently reading in class that urge them to describe what’s happening in the story
  • Getting them to take the state’s practice test to get them familiar with the test format and the type of content that they’re likely to see

Help Manage Anxiety

Any test can cause anxiety. State tests can amp that up even more for some students. Help boost their confidence and alleviate test anxiety with these techniques:

  • Discussing effective test preparation techniques, both before and on the morning of the test
  • Helping students recognize negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones
  • Teaching them calming techniques such as deep-breathing exercises or seated stretches to release tension during the test
  • Making sure they have a healthy meal and get plenty of sleep the night before the test

While sometimes nerve-racking, state tests are an important part of a student’s education. State tests measure the building blocks of learning and can be a powerful tool to promote student growth and future success.  

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