A friend recently overhead a coach at a USFS test session saying, "I don't expect most of my kids to pass, but they're graduating, so maybe the judges will take that into consideration."In both of these cases the coach was at fault. The first one because she did not honor established USFS testing and PSA ethical guidelines, and the second because she didn't stand up to parental pressure even though she knew the parent was wrong.
Last week I did an ISI test for a girl who had been advised by her coach that she wasn't ready to test, but the girl and her mother insisted. When in fact she did not pass (and in fact did not pass rather miserably) I read her the riot act about wasting everyone's time. After I left, this girl turned to her coach and announced that she thought she had worked really hard, and that therefore she should get to move to the next level anyway.
It is the coach's reputation on the line when they bring kids to test who aren't ready. USFS states in its coaching guidelines very strongly that you do not test someone who is not ready to pass. In the case of that first coach, my guess would be that if a lot of her students didn't pass, the judges probably took her aside and asked her about it. This does happen and it's extremely embarrassing. The judges are volunteers. Don't waste their time.
A coach who bows to parental pressure is risking their reputation with the judges, and is also risking loss of the student. Because you can bet the parents are going to forget that they pressured the coach into testing and simply rewrite history in the direction of "incompetent coach." And they'll find a different coach. Judges have been known to speak to parents about coaches who do this all the time, suggesting in various roundabout ways that a different coach might be in order. An unethical coach at a test session might engage in a little "tampering" with remarks like "why did her coach let her test? She looks like she's not quite ready."
In a way, it doesn't matter why the coach is putting out unready tests, whether because he or she doesn't know what test-ready looks like, or doesn't override parents against her better judgment. And as far as I'm concerned a coach that puts her reputation and her income at risk in this way deserves everything she gets.
This past August a lot of tests were being put out not quite ready because everyone was scrambling to pass their Moves under the old guidelines before the change on September 1. In this case I think judges forgave the coaches for putting out iffy tests; I am as sure as I can be that no one got a pity pass because of it however.
So how does a parent know when the skater is ready to test?
You don't need to know. Your coach will tell you. You should have a general idea of how quickly a skater can move through the levels. For Moves, a skater who works on Moves every day can probably do 3 levels in a year. The less you work the slower you'll go, but it's not a race. You don't get extra points for getting through the levels faster. Go at your own pace. For Freestyle tests, be guided by your competition needs. You can pass a level before you're ready to compete at it; once you pass it you can only skate at that level (qualifying competitions) or higher (at some non-qualifying competitions), never down. Which brings us to...
Trust your coach. If your coach says don't test, for goodness sake don't test. You pay us to know this stuff. And a coaching relationship without that really minimal level of trust is doomed to failure anyway.
See if the coach will arrange a trial test. At the higher levels (Novice and up) the coach can arrange a USFS judge to observe a trial test. At the lower levels, this can be done with the coach's entire roster of students, with perhaps a fellow coach as the judge. It could be extremely instructive to give the parents testing sheets as well, so they know how it works, and how difficult it is. This can be done on any regular ice, or find ice that's typically empty (our rink has ice all morning and at 3 p.m. everyday), and arrange to have the kids get out of school early, or arrive late for this special instance. If you do this, pay the coach their regular hourly rate, and buy a nice thank you gift for the person acting as judge. (Never pay a judge.)
Observe test sessions USFS test sessions are generally run by the clubs, are free, and are posted on line well in advance. You can download the schedule so you know what levels you're observing. It can be hard to find out who has passed (they generally don't post that) but even watching a session is instructive. Some rinks will post schedules for tests that their skaters are involved in. (Your skater does not need to know you're doing this.)
Observe other skaters. How does your skater look compared to a: skaters taking the same test; b: skaters taking a lower test; c: skaters taking the next level up. Your skater should look more like the skater above than like the skaters at or below his or her level. This is one of the places where chatter in the stands is good-- know the levels of your skater's peers, which you find out from the moms, who are more than ready to brag. They don't have to know your ulterior motive.
It's a little more complicated for skaters testing ISI Freestyle because every program has a slightly different system through FS6 (starting at FS7, ISI requires a special test at a District test session). At the three rinks where I teach the systems are:
Rink one: Class instructor can test you up to the next level for classes only, based on in-class skills test only (no program test required). For competition, Gold tested on-staff judge (one of several coaches) must do both the skills and the program test, generally on a Practice Ice session. For ice show free style groups and solos, skaters must pass skills and program test in a special test session arranged by the rink.
Rink two: Class instructor gives both the skills and program test in class, which can be registered with ISI.
Rink three: Testing is by recommendation only. Class instructor and private instructor must agree that student is ready to test. Either can veto the test. Testing is done the first day of classes by a disinterested panel (i.e. coaches who do not teach this student).
(I'd love to hear other testing systems for ISI; please share!)
If your skater keeps failing tests, you probably need a different coach because either that coach doesn't know what they're doing, or you're overriding them and making them put out unready tests (and they're letting you).
Bottom line? Your coach decides when you test, not the skater, not the parent, even if they think the coach is wrong.