With tremendous pressure for teachers and parents to help our gifted and talented students get college ready and into top schools, there’s nothing like a looming standardized test to get us all in a spin. Because Duke TIP Talent Searches require standardized tests for admission and also invite gifted youth to take an above-level test, what should a conscientious teacher do? Knowing that all TIP 7th graders are offered the opportunity to take the ACT or SAT, and that some 4th, 5th, and 6th graders take the PSAT 8/9, you may wonder, Does Duke TIP expect me to assist my students with test prep?
No, we don’t. You don’t have to teach to the test when it comes to gifted students. Instead, you can talk with families about why they don’t need to seek test prep. You can also provide them with some rationales for test-taking as an important, stand-alone step that students do not prepare for. Besides benefits received from joining Duke TIP, taking an above-grade-level test is an excellent pretest or diagnostic, providing valuable insights that can help you work with parents to determine how to best serve students. Then you can also give them alternatives we recommend below for next steps–both at home and in your classroom–that provide better, richer results in their education plan.
How do you respond to “teach to the test” requests? Share with us below!
How Do You Respond to Requests for Test Prep?
“Do you do test prep in your class? My child needs to do well!” Perhaps you get this question or comment about standardized tests from very worried parents and then a strong encouragement that you begin using significant class and/or homework time to prepare your students. You might also be asked your opinion as to whether a student should try a test review course outside of school. A first, good response to the fear families are feeling is to determine the parent’s ultimate goal, while counseling them to understand the true benefits of above-grade-level test-taking. Then you can offer some alternatives to test prep.
Ask the parent who is eager for you to start test review, Why do you want your child to take this test? Some will say they want their child to qualify for recognition ceremonies or TIP programs that require certain test criteria for admission. Some will tell you that they want a good score that will recognize their child’s abilities. Some are doing it because other parents are. Of the myriad reasons parents want their child taking the test, you will benefit from knowing why the parent is engaging with TIP, what their hoped-for outcomes are, and how to establish reasonable expectations.
Let parents know why Duke TIP recommends a gifted child do above-grade-level testing: You can see the areas where your child excels and where your child may need additional challenge. Did you know that most state standardized tests offer very few above-grade-level questions? These tests measure, no surprise, whether students have mastered grade-level material. Gifted youth are rarely being challenged by such a test, so they aren’t able to demonstrate their above-grade-level abilities or those areas where they can be challenged further. See research from Duke TIP on this topic in the article, “Many Students Perform Above Grade Level.”
Here’s how three gifted students might perform on the math and verbal sections of a grade-level test–and how they might perform on an above-grade-level test.
In this example, grade level tests suggest that Amy, Brenda, and Carla are all performing similarly well, not only relative to each other, but also in both the math and verbal domains. But when we look at the above-level test scores, we see that Brenda needs additional challenge in English/Language Arts and Carla would benefit from additional challenge in math.
- How helpful would it be to have this information so you can advocate for an appropriately challenging education for your child?
- And how helpful is it to do a low-stakes dress rehearsal–where as a seventh or eighth grader, the student will be testing alongside high school students–to be ready for the day when the test scores actually count?
And what happens if you actually do test prep? This information below can be helpful to families as well.
Test Prep Doesn’t Really Work
- Test prep might skew those results and generate a less-accurate snapshot for a brief period, the day of the test. Test prep also won’t really move the needle, either. From personal experience, we all know that cramming for a test doesn’t lead to long-term retention. According to Dr. Matthew C. Makel, Director of Research at Duke TIP, current research shows that there’s no evidence that test preparation is effective, especially for TIP kids who have already demonstrated they can do well on standardized tests. In addition, test prep courses often teach students the basic skills of test-taking, skills which many gifted students already possess if they’re demonstrating high achievement on tests already. For those students, this type of prep could be a waste of time.
- In addition, while some families might argue that their goal is admission to a Duke TIP course with certain qualifying criteria, trying to rush a child’s knowledge acquisition or skill development in order to gain entrance to an enrichment program doesn’t necessarily place that student in the best course or environment for maximum learning.
- These test scores do not impact a student’s college admissions chances, as students may re-test for those schools.
- Many test preparation programs can also lead to unnecessary anxiety.
For those twice-exceptional students who struggle with test-taking, and for any students who struggle with testing anxiety, there may be a future benefit in test preparation as they approach standardized tests for college admissions. Learning the strategies (timing, pacing) of test-taking can certainly be helpful for that experience. For the purposes of Duke TIP, however, where accommodations with timing are provided, students should not worry about being well rehearsed for this experience. The quick review Duke TIP recommends will help students understand the experience they’re about to have.
A Quick Review Will Suffice
The best way for students to prepare? Students and parents can get familiar with the general structure of the test, the timing of each section, and they can review some of the practice questions TIP provides:
What Can Teachers Do? Differentiate
Once a student takes such a test, you can respond to those above-level-test scores by planning some differentiation by readiness. What do the test results tell you about where this child needs enrichment and acceleration? Treat the standardized test as a helpful pretest or diagnostic to move your curriculum to the next level–whether grouping students with certain scores to complete tiered tasks, to provide curriculum compacting, to provide independent study, or many of the other myriad options for differentiation. Once you see what a student already knows and can do, you can be inspired to develop a new, differentiated lesson that can meet needs you didn’t realize were there.
It can also help to let a family know how you are already coaching verbal skill development or mathematical skill development on a day-to-day basis, and how your classroom tasks teach skills and meet standards that correlate with standardized tests. Sometimes families need to actually see how one of your rubrics measures a student’s skill tested on standardized tests, or how a task asks students to perform those skills. You can review your assessments–tests, products, and performances–and discuss evidence of the student’s skill development and evidence of the student needing further challenge. Where are you already offering individual assignments as well as group tasks that provide tiers of challenge in above-grade-level areas? What formative assessments can you create to let students practice above-grade-level skills, so they can make adequate yearly progress? New, low-stakes tasks are an excellent response to evidence that a standardized test provides. Share with a family your ideas for differentiated tasks that challenge a student where they are clearly above grade level so you can enrich and accelerate.
Check out Duke TIP’s recommendations for building an educational plan based on test scores here.
What Resources Does Duke TIP Have for Differentiation?
The TIP Curriculum Vault awaits you! If you need some ways to challenge with enriched and accelerated materials across a range of subject areas that develop vocabulary and reading skills, that challenge mathematical skill, then head to the Vault! The Duke TIP Curriculum Vault provides our legacy curriculum for gifted students from the last decade. Guided by core principles foundational to gifted education, teachers will find usable materials such as multimedia videos and text resources for direct instruction as well as prompts and rubrics for open-ended projects suitable to gifted students.
Check out Lesson Blueprints for quick lessons in a range of subjects that can challenge your students above their grade level.
Your response and parents’ response to the above-grade-level tests are valuable recognition that gifted youth need. TIP medals are nice, and residential or online TIP programs are nice, too–but where do our gifted youth spend the most time? With you. In this conversation about testing with families, you can share what you are already doing to serve your students while seeking input on what might happen next in lesson design to meet the needs of their gifted youth. The result for students will be rich, based on both data and strategic design of meaningful and responsive curriculum.
Duke TIP Score Results Summary (and recommendations for building an educational plan)