NEW YORK CITY — With results coming in from the state regarding the increasingly difficult Common Core testing, everyone from teachers to parents to administrators to students is struggling to adjust to the often disappointing results.
After years of coordinating a middle school mental health clinic, I have conducted hundreds of discussions around poor testing and grades with students and parents. And regardless of where you stand on high-stakes testing, the way in which you discuss test results with your child can have a significant effect on their well-being, and yours by extension.
Here are some of the most effective tactics I've found that work for parents:
While many parents can feel disappointed, angry, and/or frustrated by poor test results, it is important to remember that this is just one test result and that getting angry about it will not help your child succeed next time. In fact, expressing your own anxiety will only increase your child's anxiety level come Spring 2014 when he or she takes the test again. And, believe me, students are plenty anxious about the testing to begin with.
If Your Child Performed Well, Emphasize How Hard They Worked
Try to resist the urge to tell your child how smart they are, and instead praise them for the effort they put into their performance. Praise is an important factor in helping children stay positive about their education. However, when parents compliment children on their innate intelligence, rather than their effort, research finds they will stick to what they know they are good at, rather than embrace challenge and change, which is vital towards acquiring new skills.
If Your Child Performed Poorly, Maintain a Positive Outlook, and Model This
This was the first year that New York State implemented these more difficult exams and education experts predicted that there would be a drop in scores across the board. You can communicate this to your child and tell them that the tests are a work in progress.
"This is the first year implementing the new exams and the system is adjusting," NYC-based psychotherapist and former school psychologist Catherine Cattell told me, suggesting parents can use the tests as a model for the learning process. “Parents can be direct when discussing their child’s performance on the exam,” and tell their kids “don’t beat yourself up. Be positive, don’t focus your energy on what didn’t work, but rather to change things for the better.”
In other words, a poor test result is a challenge to be overcome, rather than a permanent failure. The more parents work with their child's school and teachers to help them realize this, the better it will be for their kids the next time they sit down for a test.
Utilize the Multiple Intelligences Theory
In the early 1980’s, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner introduced his theory of Multiple Intelligences. In a nutshell, multiple intelligences theory refers to the different ways that we all learn and take in information, ranging from visual, to auditory, to spatial. The theory states that we all have multiple intelligences, but standardized tests only evaluate a narrow slice of them.
The metaphor I use to describe this to kids is that their intelligence is a giant pizza pie. Each slice is a different part of how they learn and display how smart they are in many different ways. Then I ask the kids to imagine only getting to take one slice. I tell them that slice is the test, but that in life there's the whole rest of the pie left over, and there are plenty of opportunities to eat that whole pizza to show how smart they are!
See our interactive and story about the Elementary School Rankings and find out how your neighborhood school scored in the most recent ELA tests here.