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How To Talk To Kids About Standardized Test Scores


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In March and April of each school year, many children begin to receive their results from the standardized tests they took several weeks earlier. As a result, both children and their parents can have many emotions about seeing their scores.


It’s important to keep in mind that standardized tests were created to help schools and teachers evaluate how they are doing as educators, not necessarily to evaluate individual children. They use these tests on a macro level to help them understand how students are progressing in grade level knowledge so that they can edit their curriculum if necessary. But because the tests are reported in percentiles against all children in their grade and state, parents and children alike cannot help but compare themselves to their peers – which is not healthy nor growth promoting. Because of this, it’s important for children to understand, before they see their results, that these tests only represent a moment in time and they are not a reflection of who they are, what they have or have not learned, or how they are doing in school. In other words, if your child performed lower than expected, it does not necessarily mean that they are doing poorly in school nor is it an indication of their potential.


If your child receives a lower than expected score, be sure to check in with yourself and gauge how you are feeling. If you are experiencing “negative” reactions or emotions like anger, frustration, or anxiety about your child’s performance, it’s best to wait to talk to your child until after you are able to process and evaluate your feelings with a spouse, family member, or close friend. It is normal for parents to have their own reactions, but by removing your troubling emotions from the conversation with your child, you will alleviate unnecessary stress and conflict which will help to preserve your relationship with your child. When children aren’t weighed down with the additional distress from their parents, they are better able to address their own test taking experience.


When you’re ready to talk to your child, try to be as positive as possible regardless of their score. Open ended questions, like “What was it like taking this test?” can help them to begin exploring their experience. Comments from parents on the challenges or ease of taking standardized tests can help to validate their child’s feelings, like “Yeah, that would be hard,” or “That is frustrating!”


To explore your child’s test results, questions like “How do you think you did on the test?” or “How do you feel about your test scores?” can allow your child to begin to think about how they did. You can help them explore the test itself with questions like, “What did you think about the format of this test?” or “What is your favorite way of taking tests?” or “I wonder in what way you like to take tests?”


Remember your goal is not to make your child feel bad about the test, but to provide the kind of feedback and support that will encourage them to try again when the next test comes around. When children feel badly about how they perform, they can shut down or stop putting in effort to do better. Comments that focus on effort, instead of the grade, engages children’s agency as they feel like they have the power to study more or work harder.


As with all tests and schoolwork, children are better able to handle the ups and downs of their school days when they have a positive and growth promoting relationship with their parents and/or caregivers. This relationship provides a foundation of positive feelings about themselves giving them resiliency when things don’t go their way.

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