Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - What's it all about?

So I recently came across an interesting website called . Have you seen it? It looks like a website that parents might use to help their students practice or prepare for all kinds of testing and it sparked my interest. In particular, when I see something made for parents who want to help their children, I wonder if I could learn anything from it. I decided to take a closer look.

When you go to Testing Mom's Home Page, it has clear images, easy to read font and several sections to look at.Some of the categories on the home page were: (under the heading Start Here)  Practice Questions, Online Games, Kindergarten  Readiness,  and State Tests and Common Core. The other sections you could click on were two other websites called Study Island and Show What you Know, which I did not look at,
Parent Resources,  a Testing Mom Tip (one day I saw this interesting one: "Dyslexia runs in the family. Six gene variations have been linked to the condition. If you are dyslexic, look out for it in your child"), and links to other fun educational websites such as Brain Pop Jr.

Here's a screen shot of the home page.

First off, if you're going to Testing Mom, I assume most people want to learn about testing and see how they can help their child so they would click on Start Here, so I took a look at that section first.

If you click on Select Practice Questions,  a menu pops up where you choose what test you are interested in. Just a few of them are: WIAT, WISC, Wrtiitng Assessments, Woodcock Johnson, NYC Gifted Test, NYC Private School test, ERB,  ITB Iowa Test, CTBS (Canadian test of basic skills). There were a whole bunch more. State Standards was one of the options as well so I clicked on that. Up popped up several tabs to choose from: Overview and Strategies, Practice Questions View and Print, Online Games,Daily E-mail Questions, My Notes, and Coming Soon Create Your Own Test. If you selected the Overview Tab, you got to look at 5 detailed lessons which had really helpful information that was explained in pretty clear language. Once in while there might be a word that some parents wouldn't know, such as curricula, but overall I would guess the website has tried hard to make everything clear. Parents are probably coming here for information and much of what they get is confusing, so being clear is important and appreciated.

The Lessons had different topics. Lesson One explains state standards and achievement tests. It gives a lot of information but all of it is pertinent if your child is attending a school that either uses CCSS, its own state standards, and/or administers achievement tests to its students. Lesson 2 explains more about CCSS in the different subject areas. Lesson 3 is all about understanding test scores and I was excited to see that! As a teacher I get a lot of questions about test scores and I can get confused myself. All different types of scoring were explained here, from raw scores to norm-references scoring and more! Lesson  4 explained in more detail answers to questions such as: What are achievement tests? Why do they matter? It gave parents more information about CCSS, ways to help your child succeed not just on tests but in general in school (read to them, communicate with their teacher, help students get a quiet spot to do their homework, make education a priority, and more. My favorite tip, coming from a teacher's perspective was to remember that as a parent, you play an important role in your child's school experience and that teachers works very hard but remember to help when you may need to and if you don't know how to help your child, just ask). Finally, Lesson 5 included some tips for parents to help your child do better on tests.

The Practice Questions tab had a lot of choices, so I chose a few sections to explore. I took a look at 3rd grade test A. I like how recommended that parents do this practice test with their child over 3 sessions and gave estimates for how many minutes they should allot for each part. There were mostly multiple choice questions and a few short and extended response questions. recommended that parents review the short and extended responses with their children afterward. There was an answer key for the multiple choice questions.  The answer key repeated the  problems and all of the possible answers, told what standard it measured, what the correct answer was, and why the correct answer is right. I was thrilled they also included some rationales for why students may have chosen other responses.  For example, one explanation of why a student might have chosen a wrong answer for a multiplication question was: "the student appears to have selected a response based on the sum of the numbers in the questions".  I love this! I am always looking at student responses and trying to figure out why they may have chosen what they did. I can learn from that to become a better teacher. This is great information for parents and they could also discuss it with their children. Sometimes I have these discussions with my class- I ask them questions like, "Why do you think as a possible answer for 8+2, one of the choices was 6?" It is interesting to see if anyone figures out that is the answer if you do subtraction instead, and the lesson is to pay close attention to the operation in the problem. There were also some survival guides for every state. I only clicked on my state, but when I did it just brought up a link to the same CCSS practice tests. Maybe for some states something else came up, but I can't speak to that.

On the home page there were links to online games (beta) . The online games were interesting. They include a mix of questions from different tests as well as pattern completion, folding questions, and pattern tiles - simple and advanced. If you selected the first option, you then would choose a grade, and then a test. There were fewer tests here and some I was not familiar with, but I recognized a few like the Stanford Binet and the Woodcock Johnson. I tried out the first and second grade sections for a few of them. If you got the answer right a little alien told you were correct and you moved on. If you got it wrong, the alien basically asked you to go back and think again. I would imagine kids would be doing some of this independently and wish there was more of an explanation for them as to why they got it right or wrong. I would also recommend they add an audio option so directions can be read aloud. I also peeked at PreK and K questions and for younger students, there is  too much reading. For example, a kindergarten question in a game asks, "In the top row the pictures go together in a certain way. Now look at the bottom row. Do you see the empty box? Which of the 4 pictures on the side goes with the picture in the bottom box the same way the 2 pictures in the top row go together?"

 It is clear that parents would need to sit with their kids the whole time and read these and maybe clarify directions. I suppose that would benefit students and give more information to parents about how their children are doing and the way they are thinking, but maybe at some point some of the games could also be a little more independent. For the online games, there also is a cute Space Baby Creator that can be used for fun or as a "reward" for students. My students love designing avatars on Class Dojo and this seems very similar. I bet it would be a hit.

Also, getting back to the links on the home page to other fun and educational websites, I clicked a couple links and it looked like with a membership to you get a password to get on the other sites which is great (let me know if I am mistaken about this) since some of these websites have very limited content. For example, there are links to Learn With Professor Garfield (yay!) which has a lot of fun activities related to life skills. Also were links to high quality sites like Brain Pop Jr and Brittanica Learning Zone.

The daily e-mail question section seemed to have a list of previous questions sent, broken down into grade levels such as 1-2 and 5-6. I couldn't find anywhere to sign up for current e-mails (e-mails would contain practice test questions), but that doesn't mean it isn't there somewhere!

Kindergarten Readiness is for preschoolers and toddlers and in broken down to similar sections as when you click on "select practice questions": Overview, Practice Questions, Online Games, Daily E-mail questions,. My Notes, etc. One of the sample activities was related to color identification.

There is so much on this website, it is fascinating. As a public school teacher, my only question is with a lot of these tests, such as Woodcock-Johnson and Wisc, why would parents want to help their child do better? My experience in my district is that these tests are used to determine if students have special needs and may need to be on IEPs and receive extra help. As a teacher, if I thought a student needed help I would not necessarily want them to practice to get better on these tests. My guess is some other schools, maybe private schools, use some of the tests to determine the opposite - how well students are doing - to make admissions decisions. Does anyone have some insight on this?

Other then a couple little things, I was honestly impressed with . Someone (or some   people) have worked extremely hard to provide thorough, relevant information, suggestions to parents and practice and advice for students. I'd recommend checking it out if you haven't seen it yet. Click here to head over and please comment with your thoughts.

By the way, I went to the web version of this, and I noticed the mobile version looked a bit different, had the same things though, but also a link to an app which was free and called "Ready or Not". I didn't download it though because my phone is almost out of memory!

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  1. Hey hey! Thanks for the post about Testing Mom. Incredibly thorough :) Manoj here, from ClassDojo. We'd love to chat with you over email, to get your perspectives as a parent about our product. Would you mind email me? Thanks so much!! Cheers - and keep up the great work on this blog! Best, Manoj

    1. Thanks Manoj, I saw your e-mail and will write you back (probably after I do some work on report cards this weekend)!