Saturday, March 19, 2011

Standardized testing?

Somebody asked me about testing this week under the comments on Chris Davis' series on "Not Homeschooling Your Children". I couldn't find the post to answer it so I figured it would become this week's blog instead.

I believe in standardized testing every year starting in the third grade.  Before that time, there is no reason to do so unless your state mandates it.  It is generally too stressful for young children and before third grade a lot of kids still have issues with reading.  The first time, in third grade, if a parent is able to give the test themselves, I recommend doing it at home.  After that first time, though, I recommend doing it in a group setting, preferably a homeschool friendly one, like at a co-op or resource center. 

There are several reasons I believe this is necessary. First, in some states, it is needed to stay legal. Second, and most important, is to learn how to take the tests.  This is a skill, one that is practiced more than any other one in the public schools, and our society has become test-happy.  Part of learning the skill is learning to take the test in an atmosphere where everyone is obsessed with whether or not you are somehow cheating; how to take it in an atmosphere where you may not be allowed to go to the bathroom when you need to; how to take it in an atmosphere where a beer truck is pulling up in front of the window and unloading during the test. (That one actually happened at our resource center once!)  This atmosphere can't be duplicated in a tutorial setting, or at the kitchen table.

That being said, it is just as important not to obsess over the results. Remember, they aren't testing your curriculum, their goals are different than yours are, their values are not the same, and the tests test a very specific type of knowledge, which does not value divergent thinking.  You will not learn anything about your children from these results that you don't already know.  If you need them to stay legal, turn them in, or file them, and forget about them.  Otherwise, file them in the circular file. Most homeschoolers will do well enough to stay legal. 

When my kids were small, I always knew that they would do poorly on the grammar and punctuation sections, because I didn't care about the minute details of writing at that age; my own goals were developing a love of reading and the overall ability to communicate.  I figured the picky things could come later, if at all.  I also knew which ones would do well on the math and which wouldn't.  I always knew that all my kids would blow away the reading comprehension and vocabulary parts of the test.  You know your kids well enough to predict everything, too. If something comes up that doesn't mesh with your own knowledge of your kids, perhaps there was something about the test itself that skewed the results.  If it doesn't seem right to you, or consistent with your common sense, do not assign it any credibility.

I never tested my kids over the content we covered during our homeschooling years because I'm not into the 'stuff it into your head and spit it out" type of education.  However, I did help them learn how to take tests, and when they got close to college entrance we did prepare for the SAT.  All of them got good test scores and wound up doing well in college.

For those of you who have asked about my booklet, "How to Teach Your Children Test-Taking Strategies", it is temporarily out of print, buried on my old computer, but I eventually intend to gather some of my old things together into some sort of three ring binder type product.  Keep bugging me...the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

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