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Standardized Test-Taking and ERB Testing in Middle School

By Warren Sepkowitz, Head of Middle School

I was a nothing special standardized test taker as an adolescent, and certainly the lowest of my three older siblings and me, to the tune of 200-350 less in the SAT scores than they were. I hated reading and was a mediocre writer. My writing didn't improve until college, when I was so far away from home, and I wrote hundreds of letters to friends and family, folding in humor, sentence run ons, off the wall metaphors, breaking grammatical convention all along the way. The loneliness of college helped pave the way for finding my voice in writing. As it turned out, mom was the guidance counselor at the school where my sibs and I attended and also was in charge of administering the standardized testing. I lost a lot when she died when I was 12, and one of the things was her grounded perspective of what standardized testing is and what it is not. With a proper dollop of mom's influence, here are some things to think through with regard to ERBs, SATs, ACTs, and BLTs (please do not think this is a new standardized test, rather it was one of mom's favorite sandwiches, with the bacon crispy, but not too crispy):

  1. Read. If this were a question on Family Feud, reading and improving one' s standardized testing go together like bagels and lox. It would be the number one answer on the Feud.
  2. Sleep. Have your child sleep and get plenty of rest before testing. Study after study indicates your grandmothers were all accurate. Plenty of sleep and rest is what the doctor ordered.
  3. Intelligence is not fixed. We do not live in a Caste System World. Students are not doomed to irrelevance with low scores. However, low scores have meaning on whether kids will more than likely struggle, perhaps mightily, in school.
  4. Be a detective. Learn about the scores of your child, especially thinking about them longitudinally. Those numbers have meaning. Every administrator is different, but the combination of reading comprehension, verbal reasoning, and the two maths together and individually always help me learn about a child.
  5. Be careful if you have more than one child. Mom knew the IQ of every child at school, but when I asked her to tell me where I stacked up against my older sibs, she never would tell me. She knew how and where my brain would go.
  6. Keep perspective. High standardized testing scores certainly carry abundant advantages in the world of academia, but there is no correlation between high standardized scores and a successful, happy, and meaningful life.
  7. A few more points, had she lived longer, mom would be thinking about. She would be very concerned about the rising rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide in youth in this era. She would be cautioning parents to not start ramping up standardized testing score expectations for their middle school children.
  8. Have your children internalize their tests for her/himself. The tests in middle school are not for the colleges down the road or for the parents. They are ultimately for the students to better understand how their brain is understanding nuance, inference, logic, and relationship. And how it is not. Certainly, schools use standardized test scores for things like math placement, but these tests are ultimately for children to understand what their strengths are and where their gaps are. And sometimes, clues to the why behind those strengths and gaps.
  9. Please, if you are in Chicago, where mom grew up, please, if you bump into her relatives, please don't break the news to them, that she served her kid's bacon.