Those with children in third grade and beyond will be gearing themselves up for their yearly round of standardized testing. Preparation for these exams inspires a range of responses from discipline to fear. Furthermore, these exams don’t necessarily determine whether a child is good at subjects like math. Instead, they determine whether a child is good at exams or not.
A few years back, a fascinating article in The New Times revealed that a gene may be responsible for the way children handle tests, or responsible for whether they are worriers or warriors. The gene doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but experts suggest that it may be responsible for the way our brains process a hormone called dopamine.
“Those with fast-acting dopamine clearers are the Warriors, ready for threatening environments where maximum performance is required. Those with slow-acting dopamine clearers are the Worriers, capable of more complex planning. Over the course of evolution, both Warriors and Worriers were necessary for human tribes to survive,” the authors wrote.
Most of us are stuck with a combination of our parents faulty DNA and due to our mixing pot of enzymes half of us have both warrior and worrier in us. However, a quarter of us carry purely warrior genes and a quarter of us are simply worriers. Again, this doesn’t mean that your child’s path is set in stone. Worriers can become warriors in time if they are well trained. But the point is that neither disposition necessarily points to ability, what it does point to is a love or hatred of competing.
Performance aside, there are other issues with standardized testing. As Marion Brady, a veteran teacher pointed out in her guest blog for The Washington Post:
- Teachers are concerned that these tests promote “narrow” interpretations of math, to the point where they are deterring kids away from the subject. Those who write the tests don’t often teach the subject and can “trivialize” learning.
- Standardized testing does not allow for a gray area when a child is answering a question. The children who can afford specific test-prep coaching know how to avoid these errors, and have an unfair advantage.
- Standardized testing can reduce teachers to neglecting their best and worst students because they are focused on lifting marginal children above pass-fail lines.
- The tests can do psychological damage to children who are unable to cope with pressure.
For a tongue-in-cheek guide to the pros and cons of standardized testing check out The Onion’s take on the subject.
If you have 18 minutes to spare, watch John Oliver’s video on the topic.
For the moment, standardized tests aren’t going anywhere. So if your child is worried about the math exams to come there are things that you can do to help:
- Think of the exam as an opportunity to learn and understand math. The result is not necessarily the final destination, but the study is.
- Provide a room where your child can study quietly without distractions.
- Ask the child’s teacher what topics your child may need help with beforehand and go through those topics with your child.
- Set up a study plan with them well in advance and help them stick to the plan. Night-before-style cramming should be eliminated.
- Make sure they are eating, sleeping and exercising throughout the study period.
- Talk to them about their concerns with the tests and try and enforce the idea that the tests are not an indicator of how good they are at math, but how good they are at math tests.
Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one. She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.