Test Expert, Tim Sitar

Tim Sitar has been involved in educational publishing for his entire professional life, and most of those years have been devoted to test development. He has around ten years of experience developing K-12 reading/language arts assessments. The development process involves tasks such as creating a test map showing what standards will be assessed, selecting reading passages and other stimuli, writing items, editing items, working with psychometric experts to develop final forms, meeting with teachers to review stats or discuss bias and sensitivity issues, teaching item writing workshops, etc. He was at CTB/McGraw-Hill for seven years and worked on customized test development for several states, plus off the shelf products such as Terra Nova. He has also worked as a freelance item writer and editor for Riverside Publishing and the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Tim has been with the Critical Thinking Company for six years. He is a product and assessment specialist and works to get the proper materials to parents and schools.

How are tests such as the ITBS, CogAT, NNAT, OLSAT and WISC used?
I’ll set ITBS aside for now because it’s a completely different instrument. The others are generally IQ tests used as part of the entrance process for gifted programs and many private schools. They are primarily focused on skills and abilities.

All but NNAT have subtests that cover verbal, visual-spatial, and quantitative reasoning. NNAT lacks a verbal component. The goal is to assess reasoning and problem solving skills.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) is a nationally-normed test that focuses on grade level ability, that is, the standards taught in the classroom. So, it is more knowledge-centered. It’s often paired with an IQ test for gifted testing purposes.

What do the scores mean for students, teachers and school districts?
It depends on the purpose of the test. In terms of the tests above, ITBS scores indicate grade level ability. For the others, you get a scale score that determines whether or not you are eligible for admission but those scores vary vastly, e.g., in some districts or schools you need to be in the 99th percentile, others it could be the 97th.

Why should parents and students be concerned about their scores?
Well, if you are below grade level on the ITBS, the concern is obvious. For the others, it’s a bit trickier. If you are in a district that requires a student score in the 99th percentile and your child scores in the 97th, you still have a very bright child. That shouldn’t discourage you. Of course, it’s hard to tell a parent that when they feel that their child will only fully blossom in a solid gifted program that their child didn’t qualify for.

Why is it important for students to prepare for these standardized tests?
The test questions focus on multiple verbal, non-verbal, and quantitative skills. Since many of these skills are not directly addressed in the classroom, test prep is essential. It helps kids to understand the set-up, design, and logic of the test items.

Some folks will tell you can't prepare for these tests, or they want a "natural score" but I feel you can prepare and improve. If students can reason and analyze they will score well. Our products help kids to become strong problem-solvers; it's the best type of test preparation.

How do you recommend students prepare? Are books, classes, CDs or other methods preferable?
It depends on the assessment, and more importantly what works best for the child’s learning style and strengths. If a child is self-motivated and is an effective learner in a software environment, than CDs are fine. Books may require a little more work from you and I think that works best for younger students. For some tests, like ACT and SAT, I think the workshop/classroom environment provides the extra structure and hints that are sometimes passed over in the books you see in the mass market stores.

We offer one of the few publications, Building Thinking Skills®, that will help with both the verbal and non-verbal batteries. Spending just 20-30 minutes, three times a week, working in the book or with the software will improve test performance.

How much time should a parent and their children spend in test preparation?
Generally just about 20-30 minutes a day, three times a week focusing on skills assessed is sufficient. Ideally you’re doing this all year long. Of course, many parents don’t get much advanced notice. We have parents that ask us to overnight materials to them when the child is taking a test the following day. At that point, a good night’s sleep and a nice healthy breakfast would probably be the best option. Still, even a week of test prep time could help relieve some of the test anxiety.

How does preparation differ for a young child, such as one in kindergarten or first grade, compared to a high school student?
Attention span is an issue with the younger kids, but it just requires an adjustment in time on task.

What else is important for parents and students to know about standardized test preparation?
Don’t be intimidated by it, and don’t just go with practice tests. Work on fostering the skills that will be assessed. E.g., if you know there’s a section on verbal analogies, yes, practice analogies, but also focus on developing overall vocabulary skills.

For more information on the tests mentioned above, please visit our test directories:

 


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