Friday, February 11, 2011

Is That Going to Be On the Test?



If children are souls to be nurtured and not products to be measured, then what to we do about standardized testing? After all, tests 'norm' our children into narrow categories, yet colleges require them right?

I dislike tests when:
  1. Tests are a poor assessment tool - such as a multiple choice literature test that destroys the passion for literary analysis;
  2. Tests are over- emphasized – such as SAT scores for college admission;
  3. Tests can be 'gamed' – such as a Latin test that has so many English roots you can guess the correct translation;
  4. Tests are used exclusively by adults - students see no benefit to tests because school is something done to them.
Here are some reasons I like tests:
  1. Tests are a quick way for a STUDENT to assess their strengths and weaknesses;
  2. Tests are a clear way for PARENTS to communicate what they expect their children to learn;
  3. Tests can clearly relate benefits to the student;
  4. Tests are a measure of excellence or competency.
Life offers tests. Tests on paper are just one kind of test. CC memory recitation is a test. A clean room so you can go play is a test. On a test, an adult has set a standard and then clearly communicate to the child whether the standard has been met. Some tests require activities; some are mental.

In our family, we give our children many standardized or normed tests every year. Test practice removes fear and builds confidence. We let them know NOTHING negative will result if they do poorly. We clearly communicate that the point of a test is to train for things that really matter. Tests are just small steps in a life-long process.

We want our boys to be able to go to good colleges, but we also know the college system of the past ended with the University of Phoenix. Anyone can learn anything if they really want to. The old worry about scholarships to good colleges because of test scores is ending as renowned schools like Wake Forest University discuss replacing the normed tests with their own entrance exams. Most colleges just want your money and ask for test scores as a formality. Rather than worry and wonder, we prepare.

So, at age 12, David a will take the National Latin Exam and the Stanford and the two bluebook exams his Challenge A tutor gives him. As a 15-year-old, William is taking the National Latin exam, the PSAT, and the SAT twice as well as the ACT and the two bluebook exams his Challenge III tutor gives him. At this age, no one cares how they score. But at 17 or 27 years old, they might care. As their parents, we will be sure they have practiced taking tests.

This past year William did really well on the June SAT and not so well on the October PSAT. We compared the scores and talked about his testing strategies. Boys like talking strategy. I noticed on the PSAT results each section said things like "8/8 answered right, 12 possible," which meant he didn't even answer 4 questions but the 8 he did answer were correct. Turns out he decided to only answer PSAT questions that he was absolutely positive about and leave the rest blank. On the SAT, he had answered everything so he got more right because he filled in more bubbles. Now he knows he's a pretty good guesser and to be more confident this spring as he answers more questions on the SAT. Instead of the score on the standardized test being emphasized, he learned something about his ability to take tests. By testing often, his perspective on both the use and importance of tests is more rational. He can try new things before it really matters. He's been taking standardized tests since he was in 3rd grade, so there's no fear on his part.

Parents tend to have extreme reactions to testing. They either over-emphasize tests by acting like their child's success is hinged on their results, or they panic because their students got low scores. Children only know what they know. They won't be wise about tests if they don't experience them. Just give a normed test once a year through upper grammar school and then 3-5 test opportunities a year through Challenge. In this way, your child will be prepared in 11th and 12th to take tests that he feels will help him follow God's purpose for his life.

1 comment:

sweeteater said...

Leigh,

Thank you! I have been doing my children a disservice by avoiding the standardized testing system. I stopped having them take the tests because I was afraid my LD child would compare scores with my gifted child. I also knew the testing system would stress the LD kid. Now I plan to find a way to have them tested outside of the system so that the scores will only be discussed between the parents and children - not the supervising teacher. With the testing "season" approaching, I finally have some answers and peace. Thank you!