Standardized tests in public schools

Many of the students who attend public schools in Iowa took Iowa Assessments (formerly known as ITBS) a couple of weeks back. If you have a third grader, this is the first time they took a standardized test administered by the state. Any test in which the same test is given in the same manner to all test takers, and graded in the same manner for everyone, is a standardized test.

Every state has their own tests to evaluate their students and you can see the list of all of those per state here.

In Iowa, the test is timed and is made up of multiple choice questions. The subjects tested are reading, math and science. To get an idea of what the tests look like, check out some sample questions here. 

So how do you help your child prepare for the test? You might have gotten an email from your child’s teacher or the principal asking to make sure that the kids have a goodnights sleep and have a good breakfast the morning of testing. I would say that is a good advice for any day, not just the day of testing. Other than that, there isn’t much you can do to help prepare them with the testing material. You can’t actually study for the test. If your child has been doing well in school throughout the year, practicing facts at home, doing some homework (read here for my take on homework), then your child is ready for the test.

But there are a few things you can teach your kids to help them become a good test taker whether or not they know the concepts they are being tested on. I am a true believer that you can be an expert on a subject, but still not do well in tests. Here are some tips to improve the test taking skills.

  1. Take the test seriously.  Ask your child to put an effort into answering the questions. Some kids just answer the first few questions and stop if they think it’s not worth the effort. But my high schooler has a different take on this. He says not to take the test seriously, you need to be relaxed and not stressed out.
  2. Ask them to answer all the questions. You are not penalized for wrong answers .
  3. If they don’t know the answer, they can use techniques like process of elimination or substitution to narrow down the answer from the choices of answers. Read about these and more tips here.

Some schools send out the results of the test in March or could be as late as April. So when you get the report how do you interpret the results. See here for a sample result and detailed interpretation of results.

I personally look for the NPR or percentile ranking on the report. This is the number which tells you where your child ranks compared to other kids from the same grade level. A score of 90 means that 90% of the kids are below your child’s level. For example, I will be concerned if my child, say, gets a 60 in Reading. This would mean that my child needs some extra help in reading and  I would try to get him/her more into reading by borrowing books from the library and also setting aside some time everyday to read with him/her.So why is the NPR score important? Schools use this score as one component (along with other test scores like COgat and MAP testing) to identify kids into their TAG (Talented or Gifted program) or the ELP (Extended Learning Program) which starts in 4th grade. Some schools use a score of 95 percentile in every subject (different for every school district) as the cut off score for admittance into these programs. Also, in my experience, many college programs use this score along with other criteria to choose elementary students for their summer programs. Read my post about college programs here.

Check out this website for more information and FAQ on Iowa Assessments.

Hope you got some idea on state level standardized testing and as always if you have any questions, you can reach me at or leave a comment below.



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