Standardized tests at Mustard Seed: how to prepare and what they assess

(Note: this is an updated repost from February of last year.)

Do students at MSS take standardized tests?  Yes, they definitely do. Next week, in fact!

Each year, in grades four through eight, we administer the Terra Nova Complete Battery and Plus Assessments.  These standardized tests that are aligned with NAEP standards, as well as state standards.  Next Monday (the week of Feb. 22-26, 2016) students will begin a week of testing. It will last anywhere from 45 and 150 minutes per day, depending on the grade level.

How can you help your children prepare?

  • Put them to bed early or on time the night before a testing day.
  • Feed them a nourishing breakfast.
  • Encourage them.

We know that children who have the most trouble with testing are often tired, hungry, hurried, distracted, or discouraged. If your children are well rested, energized and encouraged, they will be ready to perform at their best.

What Happens AFter the test

After a week of testing, we will ship our answer sheets to California for scoring. By June, CTB/McGrawHill will provide the school with individual reports.  We pass the reports on to parents.  We also give annual reports to agencies and partners who examine our overall performance and serve as outside judges of our work. In recent years, for example, instructors at Stevens Institute have followed our scores in science and math. They have also proctored their own assessments of 21st century skills.  In this way, Stevens Institute serves as an outside agency that is approving and even ensuring strong performance for all children through limited and appropriate testing.

How do Mustard Seed Students perform?

Under the watch of many, Mustard Seed School students have, for decades, consistently performed admirably on these tests. Now, individual test scores do vary, but our class means fall at or above the 80th percentiles every year in language arts, mathematics, and other tested areas. In addition, when our 8th grade students begin the high school application process and take similar tests for admission, they also score well, achieving acceptance in multiple high schools of choice.  Do our students do well on these very serious tests?  Yes, they do, and, when individuals do have testing trouble, they receive attention so as to overcome difficulties.

who else uses the terra nova?

Terra Nova Tests are the standardized tests used most commonly by private schools in our region and many other regions of the country as well. The COOP test, the high school entrance exam used by Catholic High Schools in New Jersey, for example, is a 9th grade version of the Terra Nova Test.  Public schools in New Jersey also often use the Terra Nova test as a predictor of school success.

How important are standardized tests?

We should always be both respectful and skeptical of this type of assessment. Standardized tests do tell us something important.  They give us all a sense of how each child does on this sort of exercise. With the tingle of a formal testing situation, such tests focus attention on learning in a new way. They assess students according to what some national consultants believe is important, and they provide a comparison between our school and schools nationwide.

They also provide information that helps us to continually evaluate our own program. Standardized tests answer the following questions:

  • Have we taught those aspects of a subject that were presented on the test and, if so, does this student really have the material mastered?
  • Can a student connect what she already knows to material that is presented on a formal test?
  • Is he confident and persistent under pressure?
  • Is she independently attentive and focused for sustained periods of time?

At the same time, however, all standardized tests are inherently limited, for they never consider other academically important matters:

  • Does a child think deeply?
  • Does he demonstrate grit when pursuing new problems?
  • Can she think well on her feet, articulating things thoroughly and clearly?
  • Is he or she thoughtful as a matter of habit, bringing understandings from one subject to illuminate others?

Standardized tests consistently leave these questions unanswered.  Some students have high scores on Terra Nova tests, yet they struggle in other very important academic areas.  Still others score poorly on these tests, and yet demonstrate the most desired habits of learning in other circumstances. Terra Nova standardized tests, then, tell us something important about a child, but never all that is important.  For this reason, the Terra Nova is just one of many assessment strategies that we use to determine how a child is progressing.

Next week is definitely an important week for children to come to school well rested, on time, energized, and encouraged—but there are many very important weeks to follow.

Kathy Hanson

KATHY HANSON, Director of Grades 2-8