5 Things Parents Should Know About End-Of-Year Testing

By Hilary Scharton, Vice President of K-12 Product Strategy for Canvas by Instructure

Every spring, schools across the nation give students millions of standardized tests.  Students sit for hours, filling in answer bubbles with their number two pencils for an exam that may span days.  They’re told the tests are “important”, they need to “do their best”, and that they have “one chance” to show what they’ve learned.  For any child–much less one with test anxiety, ADHD, or learning disabilities–it can be a painful process.

Should we let our students take these tests?  In 2015, over 650,000 students1 nationwide opted out of standardized tests. In some parts of the country, up to 20% of students did not participate.  What can a test tell us about how our kids are doing? Here are five things parents should know about end-of-year testing:


Tests don’t measure what we think they do

We expect tests to tell us how much students have learned.  However, significant evidence shows tests aren’t great at figuring out what you know or what your potential is.

Consider the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  For many of us, it was a rite of passage that evaluated your entire school career and gave colleges a way to predict whether or not you’d be a successful student.  However, the best prediction you can make from an SAT is how much money your parents earn.2 Your score will go up 30 points for every $10,000 in your parents’ yearly income.  

In addition, scoring well on the SAT has almost no correlation with success in college.  The best predictor is high school grades.


Tests are designed to be efficient and compare groups

Most tests are designed to make efficient comparisons between groups, not tell us about individuals.  Group comparisons are valuable because they give us data about curriculum efficacy and how to allocate funding.

However, if we want efficient group measures, there are limitations.  These tests won’t cover every topic students learned and will need to be easy to give and grade.   

That means test authors have to use questions like multiple guess choice and leave out questions that might get at more important skills like critical thinking or creativity.  If you’re only doing multiple choice, you’re rewarding passive and superficial learning like memorizing facts or formulas.  When the last time was your job let you pick the right answer from a list?


Test prep is often antithetical to learning

In states where testing is king, it often comes with an emphasis on “accountability.”  The idea behind the accountability movement is that we, as taxpayers, should be able to ensure we’re getting the highest educational value for our tax dollar.  If that’s our ultimate goal, it makes sense to set up rewards (and penalties) so teachers and districts get the best performance possible from their students.

In these states, we see more time devoted to teaching test-taking skills.  Teachers and students learn which kinds of questions and topics are covered and dedicate class time to practice.  That’s not intended to game the system, but to give students tips about how to be a good test taker. (Ever learn that if you don’t know the right answer, pick B?  How often have you used that knowledge since you left school?)

The positive is that it usually works.  Students score a little better on the state exam.  However, research shows that states that focus on accountability perform much worse on nationwide and international tests than states that place less emphasis on accountability.  It turns out the time your teacher spent in class talking about answer B and #2 pencils would have been better spent teaching you more academic content.


Different tests tell us about individual learning

So if our current tests aren’t telling us what we need to know about individual students, what can we do?  In short, we need to do more testing, which sounds crazy.  We need to make sure we’re doing different kinds of testing so we get good group data AND good individual data.  We can best measure individual growth with authentic tests that are integrated into learning. Assessment is authentic when it asks students to apply their knowledge to real-world, meaningful problems.  

Imagine you’re back in geometry class and need to learn about volume.  Would you rather have your teacher tell you the formula and give you a worksheet to practice (how we’d learn if standardized test grades were the goal) or could you learn more if your teacher gave you a project to come up with a better juice box that minimized shipping costs and maximized profits?  

Likely the latter would not only make you more interested in learning about volume (“When will I ever use this?”), but you’d also have the opportunity to work on other important skills.  Project-oriented, goals-driven group learning is an engaging way to teach students how to apply what they’ve learned, while also giving them practice working cooperatively, being creative, and dealing with messy problems that might not have one “right” answer.  It gives students opportunities to apply their knowledge and a glimpse into what adults do in the workplace.

Teachers do this kind of assessment almost reflexively, whether students are raising their hands to answer a question, working in small groups, or doing independent research.  One of the difficulties with this kind of assessment, however, is that the rich experiential data in classrooms is often lost. Fortunately, schools more often have access to technology that will help teachers do assessment, quickly see results, and then make important decisions about what students know.  


How can I make sure my child is doing well?

Be involved.  Districts are great at letting parents know when and how students will participate in standardized tests, but the only way to know about what’s happening in the classroom is to talk with your child’s teacher.  

Teachers are experts–they know how important assessment is and how to do it well.  Don’t be afraid to ask how your child will be graded on what they learn, what success looks like, or how much time will be spent preparing for standardized tests.  

If you live in a state that emphasizes accountability, let your local representatives know that you care about more than test scores.  Ask for teacher and school ratings to connect to other metrics like college acceptance, AP completion/pass rates, or student engagement.  We, as parents, know what’s best for our individual children and must feel empowered to ask for it.

  1. http://www.fairtest.org/more-500000-refused-tests-2015
  2. http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/research/2013/TotalGroup-2013.pdf


About the Author

Hilary Scharton loves education and has worked in it, in some form or another, for her entire career. She currently serves as the Vice President of K-12 Product Strategy for Canvas by Instructure, the open online learning management system (LMS) that makes teaching and learning easier. In her role, she sets the strategic vision for how Canvas makes its products even more awesome for students and teachers across the globe, while focusing on leveraging technology to support improved instruction and equitable access for all students.  


See More on TodaysMama.com!

Have Kids That Struggle With Anxiety? These 4 Strategies Will Help

Don’t Give Up On Me Because I’m ADHD: A Letter From My Son

The #1 Thing to NEVER Say When Your Anxious Kid Has An Epic Meltdown

The post 5 Things Parents Should Know About End-Of-Year Testing appeared first on TodaysMama.

‘SCREEN SCHOOLED’ Exposes How Tech Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber

Bill Gates and I share a bit of parenting philosophy. Strange though it may seem, the Gateses limited their children to 45 minutes of screen time per day. I had set the same limit with my children. That seemed like enough time on screen for them to have that kind of fun, but also to experience the actual world. Then they got older, and something strange happened: school.

Don’t get me wrong. I think school is wonderful. I think it’s so wonderful, in fact, that I have devoted half of my life to it. I’ve been a public high school teacher for the past 24 years. I have seen changes big and small. Today’s push to get more kids using more screens for more of the school day has been the single most transformative change I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen the effects of this as a teacher and a parent. What I’ve seen in school would shock anyone who does not work with kids every day. Kids today are less able to think critically, solve problems, focus, and interact socially than ever before. Our obsession with screen time bears much of the blame. More on this in a minute.

First, though, what does this have to do with the limits that Bill Gates and I have tried to set with our kids? Perhaps this sounds familiar: you have set a screen time limit in your home. Since you’re a good parent, you follow through on your limits and tell your kids when their screen time is over for the day. “But mom,” comes the reply, “I have to do my homework.”


Feeling like the dinosaur you are, you stand there perplexed. To you, homework meant reading an actual textbook and writing on paper. It might have meant getting together with a group of friends at someone’s house to work on a presentation or have a study session. Your kids, though, if they attend typical American schools, have online textbooks, so their reading is done on screen as well. Homework needs to be turned into a digital drop box. “Collaborating” is done on some form of Google doc or another. In other words, the school has come into your home and run roughshod over your family screen time limit.


screen schooled


You now have a choice: you can sit with your children to make certain no time is wasted and they are always on task; or you can continue on with your evening and the mountain of things you have to get done. If you’re like me, you end up doing the latter. If your kids are like mine, homework now takes three or four hours, usually broken down like this: 30 minutes of homework and 2.5 to 3.5 hours of goofing around online.

What could be the harm in this, though? Schools want the best for my kids, right? Of course they do. In 24 years I’ve never known a school decision maker to intentionally do something that was bad for kids. However, follow this train of logic: A) school decision makers want good things for kids. B) School decision makers are implementing programs that require kids to spend more time on screens. C) Ipso facto, school decision makers must think that more screen time is good for kids. If A or B is false then C cannot be true. However, I am confident that A is true. We know that B is true. So what are we left with? The fact that school personnel think they’re doing your kids a favor by requiring more screen time. Here’s where I, and a growing chorus of teachers, parents and scientists part ways with many folks in charge of education today. But don’t take my word for it. Consider what a growing mountain of peer-reviewed, scientific research says.

Researchers at Cambridge report that increasing screen time leads to a reduction in academic achievement. A research team at the University of Michigan found similar results. Economic researchers at UC Santa Cruz found that access to computers at home and in school leads to worse academic and behavioral outcomes. Public policy researchers at Duke University found essentially the same thing. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, an addiction specialist and author has called screens in school a “$60 billion hoax” since kids end up worse off when screen time is increased. A variety of other researchers at other institutions have found that increasing time with screen-based digital technologies leads to decreased classroom engagement, decreased math achievement, an increase in victimization by classmates, a decrease in physical activity and an increase in the consumption of soft drinks and junk food. Studies done by the NIH have linked elevated screen time usage to many disorders, such as decreased human empathy, increased anxiety and an increase in sleep problems.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. The point here is that research done by scientists across institutions and disciplines is pointing to the same thing: more screen time is bad for kids. Yet schools are pushing it now more than ever – to the point that whatever limit you may have set for your kids in your home no longer matters. That’s simply not right.


Joe Clement is an award-winning teacher and the co-author of Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber (on sale October 1, 2017 from Chicago Review Press). He and his co-author Matt Miles run the blog PaleoEducation.com and their writing has been featured in Psychology Today and the Washington Post. They are both parents and live in Northern Virginia.



See More on TodaysMama.com!

3 Screen Time Rules My Kids Actually THANKED Me For

Bill Gates Reveals Minimum Age For Kids To Get A Cell Phone

Parents, Stop Teenage Privacy NOW

screen time overuse


Don’t Give Up On Me Because I’m ADHD: A Letter From My Son

My son was diagnosed with ADHD at 8 years old.  I knew something was different from the moment he was born.  As my first born, my pregnancy was met with story after story about how I should cherish the time in the hospital because the nurses can care for infant in the nursery allowing me some recovery time.  Or nap when the baby naps and make sure you are feeding them every 2 hours; sometimes you may even have to wake them up to eat! And so many more…

Can I just tell you how wrong every single person was about my newborn experience?  From the moment my son was born he would eat, nap for 45 minutes, wake up for 45 minutes, eat and repeat.  This did not change until he was 6 months old.  Sometimes at night I would get a 2-3 hour span, but if I had any light on (even in the next room), a car drove by, my husband breathed heavily or the TV glowing he would stay awake and do spin moves (at 1 week old) to see the TV or find the noise.  He also started walking around 10 months old and was climbing out of his crib at 11 months old.  He kept me just as busy (if not more) as he was.  I could tell by the look on other parent’s faces that my son was not the typical newborn or toddler.

Fast-forward eight years and it makes a lot more sense. My kiddo is just my busy-bee and once I understood him more, it was much easier to be patient with him.  It was also at this time that we made personal and family decision to place him on medication.  His ADHD was not only affecting his schoolwork, but it was affecting him socially.  He didn’t understand why kids had a hard time with him at recess or in class–and try figuring out a way to explain it! However, the first day he refused to return to school after an incident with “friends”, I knew we needed additional help.  Medicine was a blessing.  Simple as that.  A blessing for him, his education, his teachers, his friends, and most importantly…for him. I could actually follow a conversation with him for the first time in years. When I asked how he felt he quickly replied “My head doesn’t feel all buzzy any more!”.


As each school year approached, he knew that we would need to have conversations with his teachers about his behavior. You can only “island” a kid’s desk so many times before he realizes something is up.  Halfway through 6th grade we needed additional resources from the school and teachers to ensure he had a successful school year. We talked with our son a lot about what he wanted and felt he needed. It was during this time I asked him to write a letter explaining his ADHD and how he felt. I wanted to see his perspective.  Here is what he presented to me:

“I’m 11 years old and I have ADHD.  No, I don’t mean just A.D.D. ADHD is different because it isn’t just my brain that works faster–my body in general works and moves faster than most other kids.  I’ll admit that to some this can be seen as a blessing or a curse.  I say it is a blessing because it allows me to figure out problems, improve on other ideas and see things in other ways faster and more effectively than some. I have the energy to keep trying and trying and trying.  I would like you to know that some times (in my case) I don’t realize what I am doing and I need someone to snap me back in to reality. Things like tapping my pen on my desk, wandering around the room, or tearing up paper.  Also, a lot of the times, when I seem spaced out, like I don’t have a care in the world, it is actually those times when I don’t feel engaged in the activity or more simply — I AM BORED. I need to move and be involved as much as possible to keep my focus locked on. Please try and involve kids like me in the subject or game that is currently happening. Even if it takes a bit more work.  Whatever it is, just get our attention.

Next I would like you to know that if people think that ADHD means that ADHD kids are always bouncing off the walls and always not listening to anyone or anything, please understand that even when that happens, we are trying our very best. It can be really hard at times. Please try to get our attention and involve us in whatever it is that you’re doing.  Just put in some effort and it will all pay off. That’s what I would like you to know about ADHD and kids like me.”


adhd letter from son

What his letter taught me is this: I am trying and please don’t give up on me.

Simple as that.

I’m trying, guys. Please include me. I’m doing the best I can.

My heart hopes that I remember this on the tough days. My heart hopes that his teachers and friends can see and know this. If my ADHD son feels this way, I can almost guarantee someone else’s ADHD child does too. Let us all be a bit more patient and take the time to ask our child how they feel and what they need.  They’ll tell you every time.


See More on TodaysMama.com!

Parenting ADHD: 6 Things I Wish I Had Known

The #1 Thing to NEVER Say When Your Anxious Kid Has An Epic Meltdown

Have Kids That Struggle with Anxiety? These 4 Strategies Will Help

Shush The Voice In Your Head with 6 Reasons To Go Finish Your Degree

This post is sponsored by and crafted with Capella University; however, all opinions are my own.

Does back-to-school season have you thinking about your own education? Life with kiddos can seem crazy and that calendar is certainly packed, BUT you’d be surprised how easy it can be to fit your education into your already busy life – because of FlexPath from Capella University.

Maybe you’ve got some doubts floating around in your head, because FlexPath might seem too good to be true?

It’s time to kick those worries to the curb and consider the perks. With FlexPath you can:

Use What You Already Know
Did you leave a job or industry to raise your kiddos? No need to waste time and money on subjects you already know from your career. With FlexPath, because it is self-paced, you can move quickly through what you already know, and spend more time on what you need to learn.

You Can Set Your Own Pace
There’s no one way to tackle your online degree and the fact that you can be totally flexible is a life-saver when it comes to getting your degree, while taking care of your family. If a kiddo gets sick, you can still be there for them. If you can’t work and study as much during your kid’s school breaks, no big deal. Early bird? Night owl? Weekend warrior? You can get your education in a way that works for YOU.

Happy young woman sitting on the floor with crossed legs and using laptop on gray background

You Pay a Flat Fee
That means, you can move onto the next course as soon as you finish one…no waiting for the term or semester to end. What does that look like for a mom? Maybe you have a window of time when you’ve got some extra help managing the house and kiddos and can pack in more courses—It is an all-you-can-learn tuition structure, where you can complete as many courses as you are able each 12-week session, taking up to 2 courses at a time, for one flat tuition rate. For example, with FlexPath you can earn your MBA in just 9 months for under $7,500*.

Learn In a Way You’ll Actually Use
Skip the busy work — you’ll be learning by doing the sort of projects and case studies that mirror the real life experience that you’d have doing jobs in your degree field. Practical experience so you can learn as you go? That’s a HUGE advantage.

Kiss Those High-Priced Textbooks GOODBYE
I still have a few of my college textbooks kicking around in my storage closet, if only because I can’t bear to part with the monumental investment that I made in them. They are the paper equivalent of really nice clothing that I’m hoping will come back in style. FlexPath doesn’t require that you buy course materials—you can learn through your own resources or Capella-recommended resources.

“Flexible” Doesn’t Mean “Alone”
Sure, a flexible schedule sounds great until it means that you’re isolated and flying solo and feeling unsure of your ideas and grasp of the concepts that you’re learning. That’s not learning, that’s frustrating and inefficient— but with FlexPath you get support from faculty, tutors, coaches, even through the Capella writing center, and of course, with your fellow FlexPath students.

Still sounds too good to be true? Tarishia** is a mom of 2 who earned her degree through FlexPath from Capella:

“Each year I put it off. When my son went to school, I put it off that year, and then a year again. Then I finally decided I can no longer put it off because there’s never going to be a right time. It’s just going to be opportunity that I have to take.”

“Mothers always seem to do that. We put ourselves last and everybody else first. It’s just something that it’s part of our makeup as a mom. I did that for a while and I thought about it. “How can I put myself in the front for a change?” I was grateful that my husband said, ‘You have supported me and you supported the kids. Everything that we wanted to do, you always were there. This is your time.’ That was a door opening.”

Sound like something you want to learn more about? Click here to get your free FlexPath guide for all the details and more success stories from parents who were finally able to achieve their degree because of FlexPath.

*Program length and cost depends on the number of courses completed per 12-week session and the number of sessions at $2,400. Data based on MBA FlexPath graduates through June 2016.

**Tarishia is a real Capella graduate who agreed to be featured in Capella

See graduation rates, median student debt and other information at http://capellaresults.org/outcomes.asp

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Capella University. The opinions and text are all mine.