Low PSAT / SSAT/ PLAN / Achievement Test Scores — Now What?

If your child is testing low on the SSAT, PSAT, PLAN, or Achievement Tests in grades 7-10, that’s a sign to start thinking about adding a test prep protocol, or reevaluating one you might already have in place. That’s also a sign to do a full battery of learning disability testing to figure out the underlying cognitive issue.

The goal isn’t necessarily to get accommodations for standardized tests, because not every kid with learning problems has those kinds of learning disabilities. Instead, you’re trying to figure out more broadly how your child's brain works. What skills or developmental things are missing, or haven’t been completely nailed down? Now is the time to go back and nail down those skills (if possible), but you won’t know how best to do that if you don’t know what the underlying problem is. 

The right testing might also uncover something that nobody else saw simply because your kid has gotten so good at compensating for and camouflaging the real issue. For example, your child might have gotten really good at decoding words to compensate for his dyslexia, and he might have been doing just well enough in school that nobody has flagged it. 

Test Prep Tutor or Reading Specialist?

Reading fluency is a hot topic in the study of learning development. If cognitive testing reveals that the underlying problem is reading fluency, there is frankly no test prep tutor in the world who is going to fix the reading fluency problem, because it’s not a test prep problem. Take the money you’d be spending on test prep and put at least some of it toward a reading specialist. (You can alternate it with test prep if you want to mix the two.) We can’t overstate how important it is to work on developing reading fluency and to intervene as necessary if your child's reading fluency isn’t where it should be.

In fact, some kids get tracked as learning disabled when the problem is really that they never learned how to read properly in earlier grades. If children haven’t developed good reading fluency in grades 3-5, they are going to have problems with all their learning going forward, and boys are especially vulnerable. That can snowball quickly. As Annie Murphy Paul puts it, "Children who have made the leap to fluent reading will learn exponentially, while those who haven't will slump" (from "Why Third Grade Is So Important: The ‘Matthew Effect’").

It turns out that third grade is a very important juncture in a child's longer-term learning development (i.e. learning how to learn). So what do you do if third grade has already come and gone? Assuming you can’t hop in a time machine, you have an opportunity, now that those SSAT and PSAT scores have come back, to identify and fix problems that might have been lurking undiagnosed for some time. There’s no shame whatsoever in getting the testing done and figuring out how to get things back on track.