My daughter is a natural student. She’s always loved reading for English and history classes, writing papers, and studying for tests. (She certainly didn’t get that from me.) She had a high GPA in high school, and she graduated with honors from a top university.
It was a miracle, though, that she got in to this school to begin with. Yes, she did everything “right” in high school. Her grades were excellent. She had varied extracurricular activities like service clubs, the school newspaper, and a paid internship. She even started a music and arts magazine — and sold ad space.
But when it came time to apply to college, her guidance counselor took one look at her SAT scores and said, “Oh… they are really low.”
Before high school, we took our daughter for an evaluation to find out why she always did poorly on standardized tests, despite doing well in school. We knew that in high school and beyond, high-stakes testing could have a big effect on her future — including her ability to graduate.
The evaluation revealed the problem: extremely slow processing speed. Our daughter is very smart, but it takes her more time than other students to take in, make sense of, and respond to information.
We thought the solution for her was to get extended time on tests when she started high school. But when we approached the school for accommodations on tests, she was turned down. Why? They told us her grades were too good.
She wasn’t “entitled” with A’s and B’s, one school staff person said. She’d need to be getting C’s and D’s before they’d reconsider.
By sophomore year, her slow processing speed began to impact not just her standardized test scores, but her classroom performance as well. Class lectures and exams were getting longer. Sometimes she could only get through half the questions on an exam in the allotted time.
Some of her teachers understood the issue. And when they unofficially gave her extra time to finish, her F’s turned into A’s. She knew the material — she just couldn’t show it fast enough.
Still, the school turned her down again for as a sophomore. With college looming, my daughter started to panic. For the first time ever, she wasn’t enjoying school.
In her junior year, low SAT scores knocked a number of colleges off her list that she might otherwise have applied to. There was one university, however, that she insisted on applying to despite having only a 6 percent chance of getting in (according to college admissions statistics).
In the end, she was very lucky. The admissions staff looked at her grades and impressive outside activities, and decided that those said a lot more about her than her poor test scores.
In college, most of my daughter’s courses involved papers, not exams. That meant she could take as much time as she needed. Seeing that she could succeed, she started to relax. And she was back to loving school again.
By the time graduation rolled around, she had a job offer on the table. And since exams and standardized tests don’t exist in the real world, she’s home free.
I’m only half kidding. Looking back, I do wish we had learned earlier about her processing speed issues and the many different ways to help. But the good news is that after graduation, all those little timed tests don’t matter so much anymore.
About the author
About the author
Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.