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Things Parents Can Do to Prep Kids for State Exams

February 3, 2010
Times Observer
BY CAROLYNN WESP, 4TH GRADE TEACHER, SOUTHWESTERN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Often times when parents ask me what they can do to help their child succeed on the rigorous NY State Tests, I’m at a loss for words. There is no quick fix to ensure their child’s success. The steps needed to ensure the highest possible achievement on the state tests can’t be listed quickly. The process towards academic success should have begun years ago. A child’s success on the tests depends upon many years of positive parenting, combined with years of good teaching.

Consistent, purposeful parenting, together with a good education, is the recipe for success on state tests and at school in general. But what is your definition of success? To me it is not being the brightest student in the class, and it is not getting straight A’s. The successful child is one who can follow directions and is able to apply what is learned to a new situation. It is the child who is trying to the best of their ability and who knows that making mistakes is part of learning. It is one who is responsible and doesn’t blame their failures on someone else. It is the one who never gives up. The state tests are not the sole predictors of success, these qualities are.

But rest assured that if you are the type of parent who is reading this, your child is undoubtedly ready to do well on the state tests and in life! There are many things that you do as a parent which help your child succeed. You already realize that you are your child’s first, and most important, teacher. Read on to affirm that much of what you already do, is benefiting your child.

Are you a parent who realizes the importance of reading? The written word holds incredible value, and the more exposure to it, the more a child will know. Expect your child to read for meaning. It’s not good enough for them to just sound good when they read. To do well they must be able to comprehend and make sense of what they read. They must constantly expand their vocabulary, and learn to use that vocabulary in their speech and in their writing. Encourage your child to explain, describing things or situations in language that are specific and clear. This is necessary across all subject areas. The math word problems that they solve require just as much understanding of the written word as a reading passage on the ELA. Make sure your child knows that regardless of the subject matter, reading comprehension is essential, as well as being able to explain oneself in writing.

Kids so often want to simply take things at face value, when in reality what they have to be able to do on the state tests requires them to think, to ponder, to question and to make connections. As a parent do you ask them to do this? By the time that they are involved in state testing, they must be able to make connections between the many different things that they are learning and see how they are all interrelated.

Parents can take everyday opportunities to stretch their child’s thinking. Have daily conversations and discussions. Help them to wonder about, and question, the things that they see. Doing these things takes time, and that is another thing that your child needs from you. Why is it that we take so much time with our children when they are toddlers, but not as much later? Though older children are able to be more independent, they still need quality time with you.

Are you nearby when your child is doing homework? It’s a great opportunity to praise their good efforts and it tells them that you value education, and that you support what their teacher has asked them to do. During this time though, encourage your child to problem solve, without rushing in to fix things all the time. Don’t do the work for them, but help lead them to the proper answers. Help them to identify strategies that they can use again and again when they run into similar situations. Many kids just like to put down an answer and be done, but they must learn to decide whether their answers make sense. As they mature, they need to begin asking themselves this. Help your child see that making mistakes is an important part of learning, and that learning and growing never stop. Point out your own mistakes so that they know that no one is perfect. But be careful, because they will be sure to notice how you handle them. Do you stay calm and learn to laugh at yourself and learn from the experience? Or do you blame someone else for your mistakes? Model for your child what you expect from them. They are always learning from you!

If a child is to do well on the state tests, he or she must be able to follow multiple step directions. The number one reason that students lose points on the ELA test is because they do not follow all of the directions. Even though the directions are clear, and are written in two different formats, kids do not go back to check to see if they have followed each one. It is imperative that students learn to read and interpret what directions are asking them to do, and be able to do this independently.

Do you encourage your child to read directions before starting an assignment, or are you guilty of reading them yourself and telling them what to do to? When you play a game together, do you let them read the directions and figure out the rules, or do you do it for them to save time? At school, students are taught to “take apart” directions one sentence at a time to make them more manageable. When they finish a task, they are to go back to check that every part was done. It often seems that the biggest precursor to test success is maturity more than intellect. If kids are developmentally mature in their ability and willingness to check over their work and to go back to the directions, then they have more success. Are you exhausted just thinking about all of this? Congratulate yourself on the many things you are doing that positively impact your child! Parenting certainly is a huge job, but one that reaps so many rewards if you decide to invest the time it takes. A child’s intellect is just one small part of their success…the rest depends on parents and schools working together to help children develop into successful students, and eventually into successful adults.

Carolynn taught Special Education for 18 years (then returned to school to earn her regular education elementary certification) and then switched to teaching 4th grade. This is her 10th year in fourth grade. She just finished her 25th year at Southwestern! Carolynn has earned her BS in Education from Indiana University of PA (Special Education) and her MS in education from Buffalo State College (Special Education) .

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