Thinking & Learning

The Standardized Tests Are Coming

Your child has probably taken tests of some kind already—likely benchmark assessments like the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)—but for students in public school, state standardized tests start in third grade. (Students in private schools will probably take some type of standardized test as well, but not the same one the state administers.) There’s no need to panic. Read on for everything parents need to know about standardized tests.

The start of standardized tests for your child might make you feel anxious (and your kid might have some test anxiety, too). You might also be wondering why we need them and what they’re good for. After all, how can a test possibly capture all the awesomeness that is your child?

Answer: They can’t. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still important for some things.

Here’s what you need to know:


Tests won’t tell you everything about how your child is doing in school, but they will give you useful clues. Your child’s test report will tell you how well they’re mastering the state’s grade-level standards, as well as how they’re doing relative to other students in your state. Over time, you’ll also be able to track how your child is progressing in core academic subjects relative to the last time they were tested. That information can give you a good jumping off point for conversations with their teacher. If your child has a particularly low score in a certain area, you’ll want to ask their teacher how that matches up to what they see in class. It’s possible your child just had a bad day when they took the test—but it’s also possible that it’s a sign they need more support.


Test scores even in elementary school can predict future academic milestones. Our research has shown that regardless of race or socioeconomic background, students’ test scores as early as third grade—especially in math—can be predictive of future academic milestones like high school graduation and enrollment in advanced math courses in college. But we also know that academic trajectories can change with support—so if your child is scoring low in math or reading, it’s useful to start a conversation about support with their teacher now, instead of waiting until they’re older.


Test data matters for educational equity. You might not be super excited for your child to take standardized tests, and there are valid reasons for that. Tests take up time that isn’t spent learning, they can be anxiety producing for some kids, and they aren’t a full reflection of everything your child is learning in school. Tests themselves can certainly be improved—and some tests are better measures than others. But it’s also important to zoom out for a minute: testing data, especially measures of student progress over time, can help us understand how different groups of students are being served by their schools, and where we need to do better. That’s important information for teachers, school leaders, and education policymakers—and while standardized tests don’t present the full picture, they do tell us something.

Learn more about what test scores mean (and don’t mean).

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