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Standardized Tests
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When I was young (back in the Dark Ages), cognitive ability (IQ) testing was just finding its place in the educational arena. I was one of those subjects, early on, when the tests were being "normed". Our whole class was given the tests, and then a few of us were tested again over the rest of the year.

I thought the tests were fun (and they got us out of class). School was easy and boring; the challenge of the test questions made my brain wake up and take notice. The whole test was structured around language and logic. I looked forward to them; most of the answers were obvious, and I thought of them as just another game (examiners were careful to explain that the test scores would not affect our grades or promotion to the next grade). I must have been 7 or 8 at the time.

This was the time of the first bubble answer forms, where we read the question in the booklet, then filled in the appropriate bubble on the answer sheet. It was the first time any of us had ever seen a booklet/answer sheet like that. The first time I took the test, I started reading and marking bubbles from the top of the page to the bottom--without reading the directions or noticing that I was supposed to fill in bubbles in the top half of the sheet only.

When the results came back, my mother and I were brought in for counseling. The school wanted to put me in a class for mentally retarded children, because the test results showed I had an IQ between 75 and 80. My mother hit the roof. Finally, she demanded that I be given the test again under observation, and when I started to mark the bottom bubbles, the proctor, my mother, and the principal all said, "Aha!" Problem solved.

I re-took the test (not the same version I had taken earlier), duly chastened, and, as you can imagine, scored much better. (Not telling--let's just say that I weigh less than my IQ).

One of the first skills I taught children in my classes was how to take the test--how to fill in the bubbles, how to enter the letters in the name grid, etc., so that my students didn't waste their time and raise their anxiety level with an unfamiliar task just before taking a major standardized test. I'm convinced that the high test scores for children in my classes were partially due to the kind of prep work I gave them.

I also gave them tests in day-to-day subjects that used the format of the standardized test, so that the look and arrangement of items on the page would be familiar, also. When they got to taking the real test, the content was completely different, but the physical layout and process was familiar and not anxiety-provoking. Familiarity breeds good test scores.

I'm not saying that I think that national standardized tests are a good or bad idea; but if we must be subjected to them, let them be as non-intimidating as possible. Familiarity breeds contempt accommodation.

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