Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Asperger's and Standardized Testing

Standardized tests are like a painful rite of passage for each and every child at some point in their educations. Each state has various standards that children must meet to move on and progress in school and the school systems themselves are rated based on these scores.

In Virginia, the annual testing is called SOL or Standards of Learning. In my opinion, the acronym could have been chosen better, but by the time I was in high school it seemed to fit perfectly, SOL indeed.
Now, as an adult, it is time to prepare my own children for standardized testing and having a child with special needs can make things not only challenging but also nerve wrecking. By mid-year, the schools are starting to send home information about SOLs and the kids start practice testing and reviewing all they have learned since they began school in kindergarten.  

Each fall we have our Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting to review kiddo’s situation in school and what accommodations need to be made or reviewed for the new school year. During these meetings we always discuss kiddo’s accommodations for standardized testing and now it is time for all those words to turn into action. It is kiddo’s first time sitting through lengthy standardized tests and I can’t help but be nervous. So, as I always do, I start my research into what I can do to help my kiddos not only survive SOLs and other standardized test but also thrive.

First and foremost I remind my kiddos that while testing is important, perfection is not. It is important that kids remember that no matter how well or poorly they do, it is just a test. Just like with report cards and other grades, we only expect them to try their hardest and will be happy if they do.

There are a number of things as a parent you can do to prepare not only your child but also your child’s teachers for upcoming standardized tests. Meeting with teachers and advisors to go over items for testing are important. Some may think its overkill, but I schedule a meeting either by phone or in person to do an IEP fresher before testing. Additionally I check in with the teachers to see how things are progressing and if they need anything else to help kiddo during testing after they have begun.  Based on what we have done to prepare the kiddos and my discussions with teachers I have compiled some tips. I am sure they will change or expand in the future, but here is a start.

           1. Know your child’s stress signs  

Kiddo usually doesn’t stim, but when he is done with a subject or is bored, he yawns. Yawning is his sign that he needs a break or things are going to get worse.

           2. Post a visible calendar for testing days

Kiddo and most Aspies thrive on schedules and structure. In our home we have monthly schedules posted so the kids know what to expect each day, testing days are highlighted. Preparing kiddo mentally for what to expect two days from now, one day from now and the morning of helps him get ready.

           3. Ask your child’s teach how you can help prepare

SOL prep starts almost immediately after winter break and goes into high alert after Spring Break in our region. The teachers start sending home study binders for the kids to start reviewing what they have learned so far that year. If your child’s teacher doesn’t do that, consider saving some of your child’s important class work or graded tests so that they can review material.

           4. Sleep!

We all know that we perform best when we are rested, but a good night’s sleep can also reduce anxiety and stress in your child for test days.

          5. Prepare nutritious meals 

It sort of goes without saying that food feeds the brain and helps kids function better. On testing days try to limit the number of sweets in meals and increase fiber and protein. I prepare lunches for the kiddos so that I know what they are eating especially on testing days.

         6. Ask your child how you can help them

While not each child cognitively knows what would best help them, I think it’s a great time to be able to discuss things with your child. It helps them to understand that they are a part of things and not just being told what to do.

         7. Talk about things post-testing

I find that discussing things with kiddo after the testing days is a great opportunity to see what helped him and what didn’t and how to change things in the future. It’s also a great time to lighten it up and eliminate any worry they may have about your expectations regarding scores.

Talk to your child’s teacher about:

          1. Offering regular breaks

When kiddo is stressed, he absolutely needs a break. If he is pushed to continue then all the behavioral issues really start to surface i.e. sensitivity to lights, sounds, smells etc. Each child has different responses, but not matter what the response, it is best to head it off by giving breaks.

           2. Adequate lunch breaks

Testing days can be stressful not only for the students but for the teachers as well. Getting the subject matter covered for the day can be challenging when each child goes at a different pace. However, lunch break is very important and should not be cut short to make more time for testing. It’s a time for the kids to take not only a mental break, but recharge their bodies with good nutrition to get through the rest of the day.

           3. Signs of stress

While as a parent you may know all your child’s signals that he/she is going into overload, their teacher may not. It’s important to discuss these items with teachers to help them best help your child.

           4. Items to help concentration

Kiddo is a fidgiter and keeps his hands occupied with small pieces of paper, erases or any other small item. He levels himself out with fine motor manipulation and it actually helps him concentrate. This isn’t the case for every child, but talk to your child’s teacher about tools that may help them stay focused during testing like fidget tools. You can find some great ones here

Each state is different on how standardized tests are administered, information from the Department of Education for Virginia’s testing expectations can be found here. One site that we find extremely helpful not only for standardized testing but also for online courses and help with special education resources is T/TACOnline: A Community linking people and resources and help children and youth with disabilities. At T/TAC Online there is a tab for enhanced SOL, a very helpful and informative page to prep your child for standardized testing.

With some good preparation, we can try to eliminate some of the negative stigma and anxiety that our kiddos have about standardized testing. Hopefully minimizing some of those fears can help make growing up just a little easier.

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