High expectations and intense pressure imposed on students born from the high-stakes testing culture of public education has resulted in a robust test prep industry committed to helping students learn effective test taking strategies, and offers another communication stream between educator/tutor and student.
Last year’s overhaul of the SAT gave way to a surge in test takers compared to the previous year keeping companies like Kaplan, Khan, USA Test Prep and Princeton Review in demand as students aim to set themselves apart from their counterparts in the college application pool. The test prep marketplace also includes test prep kits that can be purchased online as well as educators for hire on a contracted basis.
Test prep services go beyond college prep
However, test prep services aren’t just for college-bound students who want to boost their SAT score. With some public school students taking more than 100 standardized test during their K-12 schooling, test prep companies have expanded their reach to include prep for common core assessments and other state-specific tests. Schools sometimes even offer mini-bootcamp sessions to help students prepare for a given assessment often as an after school program.
To keep on pace with the curriculum, differentiate for students needs, and provide additional academic support, teachers usually don’t have the time or resources to devote to help their students develop test taking skills so test prep services fill in the void.
While test prep can occur in the traditional face-to-face setting, many in the industry are employing technology tools such as direct messaging and progress updates to reach and stay connected with their student clients.
Test prep can quell test anxiety
Another factor that comes into play is the stress that accompanies sitting for a high-pressure assessment that could have major implications on one’s future (class placement, matriculation, acceptance into specialty programs, college, etc.). In fact, test anxiety plagues many students and can emerge as early as elementary school. It is estimated that 16-20% of students have high test anxiety which has an effect on academic performance, attitude toward learning, and self-confidence. Test prep services can provide a tangible way for students to take hold of their anxious feelings, practice the test in a low pressure setting, and gain newfound confidence.
Test prep services provide students the ability to take ownership of their academic career and learn test taking skills that can be employed for many different types of assessments. “It’s not what you study. It’s how.” is displayed in large text on Kaplan’s homepage. This encouraging message empowers students to feel like they just need the right tools to attain success. This type of thinking goes along with the philosophy that your intelligence and abilities aren’t fixed, and we all have the potential to grow.
5 ways test prep and communication work hand in hand
- Messages: Teachers can create and send messages to their students. The teacher can send messages to individual students or whole classes of students with a few simple clicks. A student can view the messages simply by logging into his/her personal USATestprep account. Teachers can also send “Pop-up” messages that will instantly show up on the student’s USATestprep page. The teacher is the only one that can generate a message. A student cannot generate a new message, although the teachers can allow the students to reply (only once).
- Gradebook: Anything that a teacher assigns to a student in USATestprep is automatically graded (except for Free Response Questions), and then the grade goes into the teacher’s USATestprep Gradebook. These can be printed or exported to Microsoft Excel to help communicate the student's grades on USATestprep assignments. There are also many different features to help sort and organize the grades.
- Progress Reports: This is one of the most powerful features available to students and teachers through USATestprep. A system of color-coded dots is used to highlight how students have performed on the different state standards. A green dot indicates a class or individual average over 86%; a yellow dot indicates the average is between 66%-85%; a red dot indicates that the average is below 66%. These dots are available for the students to see through their individual accounts, and the teachers can see the Class Ranks and Individual Student Ranks as well. Parents can look at their child’s account to know immediately where he/she needs improvement. These can also be printed or downloaded to give to students, share with parents or administration.
- Student-Initiated Work: Not all the work a student does on USATestprep must be teacher-initiated. Students can work independently to help improve (try to turn those red dots into yellow or green). Anytime a student does work on their own, he/she can decide to send the results to the teacher “Class Results” page. This allows students the ability to communicate with the teachers that they are working and practicing.
- Administration: Admin access in USATestprep allows administrators the ability to view other teachers progress. For example, if all the Biology teachers gave the same pretest or posttest, the administrator would be able to view the results for all the teachers. USATestprep opens the communication between the teachers and administrators by allowing the administrators to see and then provide services to those teachers who may need “help.” All the data is automatically generated so there is no extra work needed to see the results.
The increasing availability of technology has paved the way to more effectively open the lines of communication. Test preparation services are embracing the power and importance of online communication as they strive to improve test scores and academic achievement for students.
There are a variety of options for students and parents of students seeking test prep help. There are dozens from which to choose. You can buy even test prep software on Amazon. You can hire your retired brother-in-law for individualized test prep.
The ability to effectively communicate is essential for the growth and development of schools and school systems. It can help to improve student achievement, decrease levels of anxiety, and develop relationships between students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community. Test prep services is one facet of school communication that can help relieve some stress for all of us.
A contributor to the Campus Suite Academy blog, Sharon Powers is an education counselor with many years experience working in public education. Her experience spans classroom teaching, journalism and, of course, counseling. Sharon’s passion and pride for counseling inspire her as she helps students and their families navigate the sometimes-challenging school environment.