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Parents Try
High-Stakes Tests


Most adults happily have said goodbye to their test-taking days, but one Mississippi middle school is offering parents the chance to answer questions from its state tests, to help them understand what their children face. Included: Description of a test information night for parents.

While most parents realize their children take high-stakes tests, the content and importance of those exams might not be clearly understood.

That's why some teachers at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, Mississippi, three years ago began offering parents the chance to test themselves with some sample questions from the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT). During those parent nights, teachers also discuss how students prepare for the test and why it is important.

"We let them know about the types of test questions, the form of the test, and the need for students to get a good night's sleep the night before and to have breakfast," Armstrong principal Bob Fuller told Education World. "It's a good way of impressing on them [parents] the importance of the test."


The MCT measures the reading, language arts, and mathematics skills of students in grades 2 to 8. Students also take a writing assessment in fourth and seventh grades.

Results for seventh graders are critical, because if they fail the MCT, they must retake the seventh grade test and pass that before completing eighth grade in order to be promoted to high school.

Armstrong has seventh and eighth grade students, so parents have tried some math and writing questions. Originally just one of the school's teams was scheduling parent nights, but now all the teams are.

"Some of them [parents] have talked about how rigorous some of the questions are," said Fuller. Math questions seemed to make the most parents nervous, he added.

"Most parents are very excited about this," said Di Heineck, a seventh grade English teacher who first proposed the parent nights. "It really opened up their eyes."


The program has resulted in more informed parents and more prepared students, according to Heineck.

"After the first year we did it, the students seemed more prepared on the day of the test, and came to school more comfortable, rested, and having eaten breakfast," she told Education World. Students also enjoy the idea of their parents hunched over middle-school tests.

"I tell them, 'Let them see how hard it is for you guys'," she said, when she tells students to encourage their parents to attend. Students also benefit if parents have a better sense of the role of the tests in their children's education. "If I were not privy to this information [about the tests], I'd be lost as a goose," Heineck added. After the parent night, parents and students "begin to see how things come together, and why we do certain things."

In some cases, the parent nights have led to parents getting more involved in their children's schoolwork. "Some kids said to me, 'Wow, my dad hasn't helped me with homework all year, but since he took the test, we've done questions together,'" Heineck said.

Turnout for the parent nights usually has been good, but this year attendance was lower than previous years. One possible reason for the smaller showing could be that it was held in the fall, rather than in April, as has been done in the past, to give parents more time to help students prepare for the MCT. The tests are administered in early May. Heineck said her team might schedule another parent night in April, just to re-enforce the ideas.

"Any time you can get parents involved behind the scenes, you can target the whole child more effectively," she said.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 03/29/2005
Last updated 10/28/2008