11 Things Every Parent Should Know About State Testing

There's nothing like a big standardized test to give even the best test takers the major jitters!

Just thinking about the tick, tick, tick of the clock for a timed test can produce clammy hands.

Pounding hearts.

Roller-coaster queasiness that won't go away.

And we're talking about you ... Imagine how your child feels!

If your child has the state test coming up, know this:

You're doing the right thing to get up-to-speed!

In this post, you'll have the information at your fingertips to:

  • Know exactly what the state test means for your child.
  • Take control of preparation, so you eliminate surprises on test day.
  • Build your child's confidence and lower the test-taking anxiety that can creep its way into homework and family time.
  • Ensure your child has a solid foundation of skills for his or her grade level. (Because that's what really matters, right?)
  • Plus, download your FREE State Test Prep Guide!
Your State Test Has Its Own Name!

You may hear it called:


  • A standards test
  • An assessment of academic readiness
  • A proficiency exam 
  • Something else

To keep it simple, we'll call it a "state test"


The Key Things You Should Know About State Testing

1. The purpose of state testing.

The purpose of state testing is to determine 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 is learning 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.

State testing 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.

2. Testing "grade-level skills."

Your state is testing whether your child understands and can use the skills needed for his or her grade level.

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 question that asks:

"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 before the test. 

3. How the test affects your child in school (why the test is important.)

State tests are intended to objectively:

  1. Evaluate whether your child on track for his or her grade level
  2. 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.

4. Who has to take the test.

Your child has to take the test ... 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).

5. Grade levels that are tested.

Your child will be tested against state standards:

  • In grades 3-8
  • Once in high school

6. Kids who are homeschooled.

Generally, homeschooled children do not have to take a 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 Insight™ Assessment.

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.

7. When state tests are 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.

8. The test format.

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.)

9. Subjects that are 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.

10. The role of the ACT® or SAT®.

You may be wondering, does the ACT or SAT count as our state test for high school students?

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 of 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.

11. How to prepare for state testing.

Should you be doing anything to get your child ready? Yes! Download our FREE guide below for 6 easy tips and strategies to prep for the state testing!

Download My FREE Guide!
Get our 6 easy tips and strategies to prepare for the state testing.