What’s the purpose of a state test? … And why is it important?

By Sylvan Learning

State Test Prep

You know the state test is coming up, and questions are starting to swim through your mind:

Is the state test a big deal?

How will it affect my child?

Should we be doing anything to prepare?

Find all the answers below, so your family can have a stress-free testing experience this year.


Worth noting … 

Your state probably has its own name for the test. You may hear it called a “standards test,” an “assessment of academic readiness” or even a “proficiency exam.” To keep it simple, we’ll call it a “state test” for this article.


What’s the purpose of a state test?

A state test evaluates whether your child has mastered the skills that he or she should know for a specific grade level.

Think of the skills that your child learns in school as building blocks. Each year, the skills build on each other. In order to add skills in the next grade, your child needs a solid foundation in the current grade’s skills first.

The state test is testing the sturdiness of that building block.

It’s important to understand that your state test isn’t testing actual curriculum or material from textbooks, worksheets, homework or software.

They’re simply testing whether your child understands and can use the skills needed for that grade level.


Why is the state test important? How will it affect my child?

State tests are intended to objectively:

  • Evaluate whether your child on track for his or her grade level
  • Hold schools accountable for student performance

As a parent, you should know that a state test does not affect your child’s grades in school.

Depending on the state where you live, though, it may affect whether your child can move to the next grade level or graduate from school.

It also can affect how your child is taught in school and where your child may be placed within a class.

State tests give schools and school districts information that is intended to help them:

  • Improve how students are taught
  • Coach teachers
  • Provide additional support for students

Every day, teachers are assessing whether your child understands skills, so they can offer the right support. The test is intended to give them an objective measure of how your child is doing.


Does my child have to take the state test?

Yes … if your child is in public school in the United States. It’s a requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act (formerly the No Child Left Behind Act).


Which grade levels are tested?

Your child needs to be evaluated against state standards:

  • In grades 3-8
  • Once in high school


Do homeschoolers have to take the state test?

Generally, no, homeschooled children do not have to take the state test.

However, if you homeschool your child and you want to know how your child is doing, you can bring your child in for a Sylvan InsightAssessment.

You’ll learn exactly how our child is doing compared to grade level standards. You’ll find out whether your child is on track and which skills may need extra attention.


When is the state test given?

Depending on where you live, the state test is usually given in March or April, but it can take place as late as May and June.

Timing varies by state.


What’s the format of a state test?

Typically, your child will be asked to answer different types of questions:

  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Short written responses
  • A longer essay (in some states)

As of early 2019, 50% of U.S. states offer their tests in a digital format, such as on a computer.

For the states that still administer the tests with a paper and pencil, they use “bubble sheets.”

(Do you remember those tests where you had to fill in circles to answer questions, and you had row after row of circles? Those are bubble sheets.)


Which subjects get tested?

Every state will test your child’s math and reading skills. Most states also will evaluate writing skills.

As for other subjects?

It varies widely.

Some states test science and social studies. Some test a student’s knowledge of the state’s history. Some test civics. Some states might have a writing test, but only for certain grade levels.


Can you give me an example of a “grade-level skill” that may be tested?

Let’s say you have a 3rd grader …

And your state says that a 3rd grader should have the following language arts skill:

The ability to describe characters in a story (such as their traits, motivations or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.”

This is a fancy way of saying your child should have basic reading comprehension skills.

If your child reads a chapter book, can he or she draw basic conclusions about the characters and how the characters influence what’s happening in the story?

To evaluate this skill on a state test, your child may be asked to read a one-page narrative. Then, your child may get a multiple-choice question:

“According to this narrative, which statement best describes Simon, the main character?”

You’ll notice your child isn’t being tested on whether he or she read a specific chapter book.


Does the ACT or SAT count as a state test?

It depends on your state.

For a long time, only a few states in the South and in the Midwest used the ACT as their high school state test.

Now, there’s a movement in many states to use the SAT or the ACT as the high school state test.

States do this for a couple reasons:

  • It gives them an independent test of college readiness.
  • It gives your teen a way to take the SAT or ACT for free.

To find out whether the SAT or ACT counts as your state test, visit your state’s Department of Education website.


Should we be doing anything to prepare for the state test?

Check out 6 tips and strategies to prepare for the state test.


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