Test preparation opponents charge that high-stakes testing takes valuable instruction time from core curriculum instruction. They are correct; it does. For educators, however, the metrics determined by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation for standardized testing are a significant reality. Districts, schools, and teachers are evaluated, rewarded, and penalized according to the gains or losses measured by comparing annual test scores to Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals.

This conversation is the most conspicuous part of the real argument raging in educational circles: whether or not standardized tests are a true measure of what students are learning. Most educators agree that there are better ways to assess a student’s proficiencies and that a more authentic assessment process should be implemented.

Schools and districts cannot wait for that to happen, however. They must deal with today’s accountability measures. Given that “good” scores are the coin of the realm, what is the most effective, non-intrusive strategy for preparing students to score well on the tests? There is strong evidence that coaching focused on a narrow skill set will produce proficiency gains. So the question then becomes how to manage the test preparation process so that it impacts classroom instruction as little as possible.

Proactive strategies such as test preparation are necessary for review purposes as well as for students who are at risk for failure. The more targeted the practice, the better. There is no question that repeated exposure to specific content aids retention. In some respects, the adage “use it or lose it” is appropriate here. Our brains are capable of housing a lot of information. However, much of the information is “inert” until activated. Practice and rehearsal are proven strategies for activating the information in our brains so that it is easily accessible. The reason test preparation is successful in improving student outcomes is that practicing for the test creates a faster recall process, which reduces the stress of retrieving the information—thus strengthening test performance.

Test preparation is optimal when it aligns specific content with state educational standards. This requires that teachers conduct formative assessments to identify the content areas that need review or remediation. Such a formative assessment is typically administered as a pretest for an entire class to determine weak areas. It can also be done less formally as teachers work with individual students and become aware of specific skills that need strengthening.

One of the primary benefits of browser-based online test preparation is that it is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. This allows teachers to extend the school day beyond traditional school hours. Access to computers and the Internet continues to increase in after-school programs, public libraries, and residences. In fact, 7.7 out of 10 children between the ages of 2 and 17 now have home Internet access. Increased access means that teachers can move some of the practice sessions out of the school day, making time for direct instruction in content areas.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, there is no standardized research that demonstrates that online test preparation raises scores more effectively than paper and pencil test preparation. The general understanding is that test preparation in general increases scores. This means that we can look to other benefits to explain the increase in online test preparation.

First and foremost is 24/7 availability. Not only does it provide students unlimited access to test preparation exercises, it allows parents to monitor in which content areas students are struggling. The home-school connection is one of the factors that contribute to strong academic performance. A shared expectation of school success is one of the key motivators for student engagement. Parents want to be knowledgeable about their student’s skill proficiencies. The functionalities of web-based online test preparation make this achievable with no extra work on the part of the teacher or school.

Another advantage to online test preparation is the ability to automatically move forward to more difficult content or other content areas once skills have been refreshed and mastered. This is enormously helpful in making sure that students are not being “drilled to death” but instead stay engaged and motivated to continue working toward skill mastery of required educational standards. As this is an automatic process, students working at home do not have to wait until the next school day to be provided access to more pertinent practice.

Since test preparation is a given for today’s students, the advantage to online test preparation is the extension of the school day allowing teachers to spend more class time on content instruction. Online test preparation offers parents the opportunity to become more informed and involved in their student’s academic life. Home reinforcement of the need for academic success increases students’ motivation for practice. The 24/7 availability of online test preparation programs makes these things possible.

References

Cavanaugh, C., Gillan, K., Kromrey, J., Hess, M., & Blomeyer, R. (2004). The effects of
distance education on K–12 student outcomes: a meta-analysis. Naperville, IL, Learning Point Associates. Retrieved from http://www.ncrel.org/tech/distance/k12distance.pdf.

FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. (January 2007) NCLB steals time. Retrieved from http/www.fairtest.org/examarts/2007%20January/NCLB%20Time%20.html.

—. Reality-testing NCLB. Retrieved at http://www.fairtest.org/nattest/Reality_Testing_NCLB.html.

Wikipedia. Internet access in the United States. Retrieved at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_access_in_the_United_States.