One poor test result should be put in perspective

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:59pm

My daughter has always had good reports for writing, and it is her favourite subject at school. But she did not do very well in a standardised test recently. She was very disappointed and it seems to have affected her confidence. The school said this was a new kind of test they were trying out. Are these tests really that important?

Some students respond well to taking tests and others react negatively. While some rise to the challenge of working under pressure, others find the whole process very stressful. It is important to remember that these one-off tests are only a snapshot of a child's ability at any one time on a given day. Your daughter may simply have had a bad day or, for some reason, her nervousness did not allow her to think clearly and focus on the tasks. The last thing you want to do is to quash your daughter's enthusiasm for writing, or to let her to lose confidence, especially as she obviously enjoys the subject.

The administration of a test can affect students' performance. Their learning style can also influence their performance. Was this test carried out on the computer, for example, or was it a pencil-and-paper test? What were the time constraints? It is possible the topic of the writing did not suit or inspire your daughter.

Have you checked what type of writing was being tested? For example, a child may perform well in narrative (creative) writing but less well in exposition (report) writing. Find out if there is a breakdown of what the test entailed. Was her score based only on the content of the writing or were spelling, grammar and punctuation also a factor?

Standardised test results help to tell schools if pupils are moving in the right direction and, if carried out annually, check that they are making appropriate progress. They can help to inform teachers of the next steps in learning and help students set targets. If this test is new, it will not be possible to compare results. But if otherwise, it would be useful to look at her results compared with the standardised test last year.

It's possible that either your daughter underperformed on the day or you have a less than accurate picture of her ability.

Schools realise how important it is to employ a wide range of strategies to gauge pupils' performance over time. There are many ways teachers use to build up an accurate picture of a child's strengths and identify areas for improvement. When formative assessment is combined with the teacher's day-to-day observations, the assessment of your daughter's attitude and performance can be more rounded and complete.

It may be useful for you to ask to look at a range of writing samples that show how she performs in the classroom in a less stressful environment. Some schools also collect work samples and build up portfolios of student achievement to provide further evidence of progress.

Discuss with your daughter's teacher how she can be encouraged and supported in her writing both at home and school. Ask the teacher to reassure her and explain that test results should be kept in perspective. Children often value what the teacher says more than what their parents say.

Make sure you have a discussion with your daughter, too. Pupils these days are encouraged to reflect on their learning, and she may have an explanation for her response to the test and how she feels she is progressing.

Help her to be optimistic and try to avoid her building a phobia about taking tests.

Later, when your daughter moves on to secondary school, she can take heart from the fact that examinations take an increasingly diminished role in overall assessments. This will not only help students who occasionally get nervous, but also allow students to present a more comprehensive picture of their abilities.

Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school