In some parts of the country the month of April is known for its “showers,” which bring May flowers. Here in Arizona we’ve already gotten our winter rain and our March wildflowers. So what do we say about April here? It’s AIMS month, typically muttered with dread all in one breath as in OMG — AIMS.
I remember way back to my daughter’s third grade teacher conference (circa 1998), when Mrs. Dalton told parents a new test was being developed that would be a high school graduation requirement for every student in the state. No way, we all thought. This state won’t get momentum built for a standardized test. Even if it did, we were sure that kids with learning disabilities (including dyslexia and ADHD, with which her sixth-grade brother struggled) would be exempt.
Of course, we now know what happened. Fortunately, my son graduated high school in 2005, before the AIMS was fully developed and required.
Arizona Department of Education guidelines now exist for Universal Test Administration Conditions which are available for all students, and Standard Accommodations which exist for students with IEP or 504 Plans, ELL, and injuries. It is important to note that unless a student has already been identified as needing an accommodation during instruction time in the school year, an accommodation will NOT be available for testing.
If your child has not yet been evaluated for an IEP or 504 Plan, it’s too late for this year’s test season. But it’s not too late for the next one! Every grade level from 2-12 has a standardized test like the Stanford 10 or AIMS. Use this month to educate yourself about what “high stakes” tests you can anticipate for the coming years. And if your child does qualify, be sure to talk with your child’s teacher at least a week before the test to make sure that accommodations will be in place. AIMS testing takes place this year during the week of April 11.
Often students hear the word TEST and get all nervous about what grade or score they will get. Children who already feel bruised because they are differently abled learners can easily talk themselves into a state of panic often referred to as Test Anxiety or “testaphobia,” as my son labeled my description of myself facing timed tests as a student. Whoever invented the BUBBLE test was a %@#$*&!
A great little book published by Scholastic is Be A Super Test-Taker, by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D. Rozakis describes ways in which standardized tests can help students, parents, and teachers figure out what it is students know and don’t know (especially compared to peers across the state and country). She also points out that success on these tests can help students qualify for special programs, prizes, and other opportunities.
Still nervous? Rozakis provides concrete and useable tips for how to take tests even in elementary school. Beyond the good night’s sleep and nutritious breakfast, she leads the reader through the weeks and days prior to the test with guided exercises and practice tests for strengthening students’ brain power and ability to test.
Test taking is a life skill of our times. Often it’s not what you know, but how well you can demonstrate it.
Much of the test preparation advice for typical learners also applies to kids with ADHD. However, kids with ADHD require supplemental advice. For instance: READ the INSTRUCTIONS sounds easy enough, but for the ADHD student, that one step is really five, not including deciphering the meaning of the instruction and then picking the correct answer and filling in the correct answer bubble. The ADHD student must first:
- FOCUS on the test itself, not what is on the lunch menu.
- SELECT the correct item requiring attention, eg: Use bar graph A to answer questions 26-29 and use bar graph B for questions 30 and 31.
- SUSTAIN attention long enough to remember what each bar graph means and which bar graph to use for which questions.
- RESIST DISTRACTIONS and ignore the flickering fluorescent light, the noisy fan and the kid with the cough.
- SHIFT attention to the next set of questions even if the previous questions are interesting.
(adapted from CHADD.org Parent-to-Parent Training Manual, May 2008)
Marc Ginsberg, founder and owner of A+ Tutoring and Test Prep, LLC has a master’s degree in special education and has been a certified math teacher in the Paradise Valley Unified School District for more than 17 years. He understands the various learning styles and frustrations that many students experience in today’s rapid information society.
“Standardized testing is a permanent phenomenon of our modern era that K-12 schools, universities and even corporations routinely administer and use such resulting data to help make admission and hiring decisions,” he says. “These kinds of tests are easy to use because of the simple multiple choice format that makes it relatively fast to compare and rank subjects in an objective manner.”
Students in Arizona will spend hours this week taking practice tests prepared by ADE. “Practicing test questions in a similar test format and setting to the real exam are critically important since students will be more likely to carry this experience of mastery over to the real test setting,” Ginsberg says. “Having students practice WRITING simple multiple choice TEST QUESTIONS can give them an idea of the problem solving process and possible solutions.” (Wow, what a great idea!)
Recently, I had the chance to talk with Marc and his wife Cheryl (co-owner) about how employing all of our senses can contribute to test-taking success. Olfactory memory (our sense of smell) is a powerful tool for cuing our minds (ADHD and otherwise) to retrieve information or to prompt a state of mental alertness. Here is a situation where having ADHD can actually be a plus, if your child’s ADHD is accompanied by “sensory sensitivity.” Marc recommends that even simple scents like body spray/deodorant and shampoo should be worn consistently during study/test preparation and the day of the test. “All of our senses can help study results transfer to the testing situation,” Ginsberg says. As he points out, for some students, the tactile sense of how fabric feels can be a powerful tool for igniting recollections (again a plus for the ADHD child with “sensory sensitivity”), similar to how some students associate certain colors with information retrieval.
Snacking on “brain foods” such as nuts, berries, and lean meats is another technique that can be used not only to generate mental prowess but also to trigger memory and associations acquired during study and practice testing.
Dear Reader, I’ve really tried to find the funny side of AIMS….no luck so far, except the testaphobia quip contributed by my son whose humor and resiliency got him through school.
Maybe the best advice I can give is to remember this:
April Showers don’t need to bring AIMS tears.
As much as parents and teachers dislike ‘teaching to the test,’ the reality is that kids with ADHD will face all sorts of ‘tests’ in their lives. Equip them, starting now, with the skills they need to persevere, to figure out what helps them get through tough times and to know that WHO THEY ARE is NOT a test score.
P.S. Before I forget, or lose this link, Frank Barnhill, M.D. has this to say about and ADHD kids: “Any test can be made more interesting and sticky (stickiness is defined by something’s inherent tendency to maintain one’s attention) by including graphics, pertinent designs and key colors associated with the content. For example, it’s easier to remember an octagon is used for a stop sign, if the symbol is colored red. ADHD’ers definitely do better at verbal testing.”
While it is unlikely that AIMS will be adapted specifically to assist the differently abled learner, some of the testing tips that Barnhill suggests could quite possibly be implemented by an open-minded teacher in a classroom setting during the school year. “Remember, the purpose of testing is to teach and assess, not to fail.”