Helping Parents Choose Common Core Test Prep Materials for High Schoolers

Parental involvement is crucial at every grade level, but it’s especially valuable in high school, when students are easily distracted by many competing priorities.

A new priority is the Common Core State Standards Initiative, already in effect in a number of states across the country. Many parents and caregivers are just as stressed as their children about the new requirements, and they want to help.

As an educator, you are an important resource for parents who want to support their teens’ learning but don’t know what to look for when staring at the numerous Common Core study guides, learning aids and test preparation books and software out there. Here are some suggestions.

A Mix of Online and Offline Tools

Dan Hull, a teacher with the Phoenix Union High School District in Phoenix, AZ, suggests encouraging parents to consider a combination of Web-based and paper-based assets. Common Core test prep guides and subject-specific learning materials sorted by grade level are available as workbooks, CDs for the home computer or hosted online apps. Remind parents to choose products that:

  • Provide detailed explanations of answers so students understand right and wrong responses
  • Offer full-length practice tests to help students build stamina and learn time management

When it comes to paper-based learning materials, Hull says to look for workbooks that enable teens to assess their own work. “Students should be able to know what specific things they need help with. It should be easy for them to find pre-tests, practice tests and units of study that all go together.” Workbooks should also include multiple difficulty levels so students can progress through it.

Choose technology solutions that are highly interactive. “Strategy games that are subject-related and hold student interest are the best kinds of online study tools in the sense that kids don’t usually mind using them for extended periods of time,” Hull says. “Ideally, Web-based materials should be portable enough so they can use them on cell phones. It’s important to remember that many low-income families don’t have landlines or Internet at home, and they have smartphones instead.”

Writing Help Is Key

Regardless of the platform, it’s important to remind parents to work with their children on writing, according to Nicole Zdeb, senior manager of academic services at the Northwest Evaluation Association, a global not-for-profit educational services organization in Portland, OR. “Look for materials that incorporate rich opportunities to write and communicate. Writing skills are essential to develop for career and college readiness,” she says. “They help a student in so many ways, and one of the most important ways is by building confidence. A student who has control over her ‘voice’ has a powerful tool to create her future.”

And what about those all-important Common Core test preparation materials? Counsel parents to choose the most current version of online and paper-based materials, as formats and question types change frequently. These resources should include instructions on how to solve or complete questions and problems, and show models of correct responses. It’s also crucial to have the ability for immediate assessment.

“Test prep at home is particularly valuable because of the opportunity it provides for them to discuss what they learn and struggle to understand with their parents,” explains Jim Burke, an English teacher at Burlingame High School in Burlingame, CA, and author of The Common Core Companion series.

Parents trust you with their teenagers every day. Extend your good influence and strengthen students’ Common Core performance by advising parents on how to support learning at home.

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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