Unstandardized Testing

For the 7th year in a row, I have mailed off my children’s California Achievement Tests for grading.  As always, I have mixed feelings.  And, as always, I have new and different feelings.

First off, none of my children are likely to 99th percentilers.  Or 98th.  Or even 95th.  In fact, if the first digit is a 9, I will jump for joy.  Years ago, this bothered me greatly.  I always scored at the top of standardized tests, and I went to (gasp) public schools.  Surely, my children, who are quite bright, and who have a teacher with a fabulous mind and a true love of learning and who only wants the best for them and gives them one-on-one tutoring, surely, these children should be top scorers. 

But my children are not me.  And I have to accept that.

I also have to accept that, quite likely, those public schools I attended prepared me for those standardized tests.  That they taught to the test, as they say.  I won’t do that.  And I see where the curriculum I use does not address topics like grammar to the extent these tests require in the younger years.  Years ago, that bothered me.  Now, I realize that a 4th grader not knowing what a predicate is, is really no big deal.

Unless you want good scores on the standardized tests.

I tested Fritz and Billy beginning in the 1st grade, because Virginia law demanded it.  That’s ridiculous.

Katie and Jenny began in the 2nd grade.  This was Jenny’s first year, and I should have skipped it with her.  Georgia law doesn’t require it, and she is not yet a good reader.  Her frustration was expressed in large sweeping scribbles on one page of the test.

Fortunately, I was able to erase them.

Like every year, I went through and made sure that all the bubbles were nice and dark.  This is the first year, however, where I did not check the answers.  Why did I check the answers in the past?  The results don’t tell you what they got wrong, so I wanted to see where the issues were.  Why didn’t I do it this year?  Apathy…time…experience that it just doesn’t matter.  Maybe I’m just getting old and lazy.

Like every year, I made sure that there were no excess or stray marks on the pages.  Unlike every other year, I didn’t give the full verbiage about how to take the test: When you see a Go On at the bottom of the page, it means go on to the next page.  When you see a Stop it means it is the end of the test.  You may go back and check your work.  Please sit quietly until the time is up.  Do not talk to the other students.  Do not throw spit balls at the teacher.  etc, etc etc. 

I also left out the part about not making any other marks on the page.  My boys played connect the dots with their answers.

You should have seen my head hit the table.  Really?  I asked them.  Didn’t you know any better? 

I guess not.  The marks erased.  Mostly.

My final thoughts are this.  I think standardized testing is a good idea for several reasons.  It does give you an idea of what other students at the same grade level are learning.  It does serve as a benchmark if you use the same one, year after year.  And it does give the kids practice in taking this sort of thing so that when it really matters (SATs and ACTs and those sorts of tests), they are comfortable with the format.  This year, my 3 older students happily took the tests as a break from their other school work.  They’ve finally relaxed and don’t see the testing as onerous.

But…I also recognize the limitations of standardized testing and sympathize with teachers who are judged only on the basis of the results they get (especially if they have students who play connect the dots on their answer sheets).  I oppose states mandating testing of homeschooled children in years that public school children are not tested (as Virginia requires it annually, but the public schools only do them every 3 years or so).  And I empathize with other moms, like me, whose kids are fair-to-middling on these tests and who feel shame or worry that they aren’t a good enough teacher.

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6 thoughts on “Unstandardized Testing

  1. Last week I made my 2nd grader (now 3rd grader) retake the test because I didn't want the state to get upset that she only scored 3's on her math sections. Last time I just sent in the test without reviewing it thinking she has surely done well. This time, I checked each answer to be sure she didn't hose it….I'm told we could just find someone qualified to help us provide a letter with proof of progress instead of these test in VA…but then I'd need to find that person ugh.

  2. Fritz had to do the 2nd grade test twice, and even then I think I had to pump him hard beforehand. That's Virginia. Stupid law. They don't make the public school kids take the test in 2nd grade. I wonder what would happen if they got 3's? Would they have to be homeschooled then?

  3. Just know, Michelle, that if they had a portion of the test on bird identification and other truly interesting things, your kids would rock it out. They are smart kids and wonderful. Down with formalized education! Fight the power!

  4. They could also totally ace trivia from 1960's TV shows like Emergency and Adam 12. And now that I'm thinking about it, teaching prepositions with the old “anything a squirrel can do to a log: under, over, around, in” I really need to change to where/how to throw a ball or a rocket propelled grenade: in the sky, over my head, through the window.

  5. I feel blessed that back before we had to think about testing, my friend Jodie told me that she didn't care if they excelled on the test, just were in the normal range. That helped with some of the stress. It also helped to have been a tester with the BJUP tests and know that for the SAT they read the entire test out loud to the kids through 2nd grade. I admit, I sometimes will read aloud words or questions if I think it's unrelated to what's being tested (like science) for my 1st graders.

    The kids regularly do fine except in spelling where anything above a 3 is a triumph. Fortunately, in VA you are judged on the overall score not subtest specific scores so the kids' averages were ok. In NC the law is less than clear. I have to keep attendance records and do testing, but don't see that I have to send them somewhere or that they have to be at a specific stanine.

    Oh to live in KS again…..

  6. I will probably have to test Faith this year (um, get on that) because we didn't use Seton for her. I will stress, but as long as she scores in the middle 50 percentile (or top — haha!) I will be fine. I have relaxed a bit there.

    I have heard that our new governor (Kasich – R) is doing away with the standardized graduation test in Ohio — I hope many more follow that path.

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