Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Standardized Testing proves... what?

Here in Colorado, in order to legally homeschool our children we must Test them every other year, using a nationally standardized Test, and file it with the school district every other year in order to prove we are actually teaching our children at home, and that they are learning something. Since the beginning of this school year, our first Testing Year, I have quivered in fear at the thought of having to give my daughter the Test.

Am I the only one who finds it outrageous that we are expected to test our children in the same way as public school kids? The reason we are keeping them at home is because we want to teach them differently. If we are teaching them differently, how can testing them like public school kids actually show anything?

Part of the reason I'm feeling disgruntled is probably because I'm starting to freak out a little bit more. After so many other mothers said, "Oh, she'll do just fine. You don't need to worry," I ordered the testing materials for The Oldest last week, and got them in the mail on Monday. As I flipped through the test booklet, I was feeling a little bit smug because everything covered looks so simple. It's all stuff she knows, and it should be easy. I figured we'd breeze right through it, she'd score in the 90th percentile, and my success as a homeschool mother would be proven to the school district.

And then we sat down with the test prep book, to get a feel for how it all works. And I realized... we might be in serious trouble. No, scratch that. We're screwed.

The problem comes, not from lack of knowledge, but from the fact that my homeschooled third grader has never before seen a test of this sort. Or a test of any sort. If I want to find out how much she understands of a concept, I ask her. I say, "Tell me about...." and I listen to what she says. If she explains it correctly, in her own words, using her own examples, I assume she understands. She proofreads her own papers, she works her math problems in front of me. I don't handle her multiple choice and ask her to fill in bubbles.

Apparently multiple choice is completely overwhelming to a child who has never seen such a thing before. Where she might be able to form her own (correct) answer with no trouble, suddenly when presented with four different options to choose from, she's able to talk herself into wrong answers. And it's all so sterile-looking, these questions laid out in this little booklet (that heaven forbid you write on,) and I think it intimidates her into thinking she doesn't really know as much as she does. There are concepts she's had mastered since kindergarten that suddenly she appears to have forgotten, because now she has to fill in little bubbles with her No. 2 pencil to prove she really does know them.

And so we will now put regular school on hold while we spend each day focusing on how to take a test. We will practice like crazy, and hope she doesn't forget everything she's learned in the meantime. Then the test will be administered and we will hope and pray that she doesn't accidentally skip a question and get 'off' by a bubble, therefore rendering the test a failure.

Someone should seriously rethink the way we test homeschoolers. In public school, teachers pass any kid who can guess enough correct answers to make it look like they learned something. In home school, kids don't have that option. And yet we're the ones panicking because our kids might not be able to prove what they know. Who decided on this, and where is the logic in it?


Wendy said...

ugh. sorry you have to do that. unfortunately, the best thing to do might be to just do your yearly teaching of test taking strategies and then move on to your regularly scheduled program. I used to teach English and though they started keeping track of scores according to grade, teacher, etc. I never really gave a shit about it. I did a little test prep, but not to the extent that other teachers did - b/c I refused to do that at the detriment of the students who needed a challenge rather than do packets for 2 months. I kept teaching interesting novels, making kids do lots of journal writing and reflections, and kept teaching they how to write interesting and effective essays. Interestingly, I never had one concern that my studnets weren't scoring well on tests. I'd get Chloe used to the format, teach her the process of elimination, how to "read" the question to get at what they're asking for, and trust she'll be fine. But yeah, proves nothing. Waste of time. Btw, another perspective - I'm a cheater - in that I'm a good test taker. I'm smart in that I can figure out what someone/something is asking and do well. Not saying I'm a dummy or anything, but I do think standardized testing shows I'm probably smarter than I am. My husband on the other hand is a horrible test taker. you'd think he had an IQ of 80 while he's one of the most well-read contemplative intellects out there.

Anonymous said...

Yup-- "Crank out as many widgets as possible, as quickly as possible, make as much money as possible for the upper management, and if the widgets can fill in bubbles, they're 'educated.'" ...and we wonder why folks decide to do something different for their children?