Monday, February 18, 2013

Thoughts on Standardized Testing

Ah, standardized tests. One of the predictable annoyances of American life. We all took them yearly in school. Remember the week of boredom? Sitting in the quiet, warm room, waiting for the other kids to finish erasing and coloring little bubbles? Watching the sun outside the window? It makes me nappy just thinking of it. None of us took it very seriously; it was an inconvenience. Nobody assumed it had much to do with real school, the things we learned everyday. There was a vague correlation, but who really cared?

Not any more. Public schools are all about EOG and EOC ("end of grade" and "end of class") tests. Everybody's teaching to the test because the tests are now important. Teachers jobs and salaries are tied to them. When I talk to public school kids, they love throwing around the testing terminology. It makes everyone feel important. We're taking tests! we say. Tests are a big deal!  That's the feeling I get. As a homeschooler, that can be intimidating. Homeschoolers might wonder, "How would my child do with all that hard testing? Would they even pass?"

Recently, some friends of mine got to find out. They live rather far away in a different state, and they've always homeschooled their many children. Their pack of school-aged children had never been tested. That's right -- never taken a standardized test. Not the CAT, the Stanford, Iowa Basic Skills, nor any of the other favorites. One year, one of the children was really fighting and struggling with math, so they decided (after much deliberation), to give him the year off math. I know for a fact that the mom, who does most of the teaching, has given thorough and organized thought to the course of education for the children. Both parents are very bright and well-educated. And although they aren't wealthy at all, the home is free from any drug or alcohol abuse or any of that stuff. All that to say, it's a safe, loving family, with a simple life style. Education isn't administered like medication. There's no teaching to a test. There is only teaching because learning is a wonder, is fun, and important. That's the mentality.

But ... will that mentality wash, when the kids are faced with standardized testing? Can kids who've never tested nor been prepped for testing, pass? Can a child who's skipped a year of math even hope to pass?

Well, we found out. They all took standardized tests, administered from the county schools by a kind lady. And after much fingernail biting on my part, I was thrilled to learn that all the children did fine. Just fine.

Which makes me wonder about those standardized tests that all the public school world seems to revolve around like a sun. It seems like a hoax, somehow. If homeschool kids who spend hours each day playing in the backyard, reading in their beds, and making apple pies can pass handily, why are the school kids laboring in boredom, day after day, "getting ready for the test"?  Why?

Last week I emailed my North Carolina testing company I've been using for five years. I buy an old CAT test for Julia for $40. I administer it at home each April. (I know! Horrors! A parent administering a test!) I time her, and I never cheat. Why would I cheat? What possible good would a false test result do me? But frankly, I'm weary of testing Julia. She doesn't need it.

Last year, in 7th grade, she scored 12.9 in "grade equivalency" for the entire opening battery (including reading, language skills and math), and 12.9 for spelling, science, and social studies as well. Of course, that does not mean I would place her in the 12th grade in some school (and in the 9th month, to boot!). It only means that the test indicates that she is performing in all those subjects as students in the 9th month of their senior year, would be performing. I do not say all this to brag on my child. I want to show the uselessness of such tests. I know well all the things that Julia still needs to learn. In 7th grade, she'd never started algebra, never had high school science at all. What in the world are they testing for, on these tests? I'm baffled.

Yet, the state of North Carolina declares that I must test her each year. Don't you think we all could agree at this point that she is one student who doesn't need any more testing? If I never did another scholastic thing with her (which would go against both our natures), she could enter college in a few years and do fine.

But thousands of homeschoolers agonize over whether they're doing enough. And thousands of public school kids think they're brilliant for taking such useless tests.  There's a growing movement for "opting out" of test taking.  How much time and money is being wasted on this test-inflation mentality? We've thrown so much money at a broken system. Now there's a call for universal pre-K from the White House. Really? Another program that will do more harm than good?

I wonder: If I opted out of testing, who in the state administration could successfully argue that Julia needs more testing? That it would do her one iota of good? Phooey. If I were more of a rebel, I'd consider it.


  1. “Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

    I hate standard's of learning and standardize tests.

  2. I try to think of the standards as a wise way to make sure that kids learn certain things at certain developmental junctures in their education. I figure the tests detect the struggles they might have with academic thinking. Only in America do we generously educate everyone. I tell my students that their community cares for them, prepares them for a working life so that they can be contributors not consumers, and exposes them to the beauty of their free country. I don't like the possibility of being harshly judged because of my students' scores, but I certainly trust my Teacher to iron all that out. So many children are deprived of exposure to joyful learning at home. I hope to remain willing to fill in the gaps, if I can. I don't mind being held accountable by the test. It's just a universal instrument, not alive, not a perfect predictor. He is the Way; we know this. Whew.

  3. It's fascinating to find out people's views on testing! So wide-ranging. Pom, I think we both know that we agree on so much. My wish would be for a different world where children could all be loved and taught at home, but that ain't happenin'! So if children need schools, there's NO one I'd want to teach them, more than you :) One of my big beefs with testing these days is something you mentioned: it's not really about assessing kids anymore; the tests are used to assess the TEACHERS. What? That's insane to me. If an administration needs a standardized test designed for students, to assess the quality of their teachers, they're the ones who should be fired. Administrators should have their own criteria for discerning if their teachers are good. (As you said, Whew!)
    I'd only take exception with one thing you said: that only in America do we education everyone. There are many, many nations that give free (tax-paid) education to everyone. Some are more generous, and do a much better job, than we do. I just googled quickly, and found a long list of nations that offer free post-secondary education as well. We're not the only ones. Though, as you said, it's generous for a country to do so. I just wish we did a better job of it. But that is no reflection on you as one of the finest teachers I know!

  4. Smile. What are the other nations that offer free education for all? I guess I should know this!
    I'm so glad that the King of kings is my principal. I wish everyone could be educated at home, too. I wish we could make that happen. Who knows what might happen fifty years from now?
    Thank you for your good thinking, good friend.

  5. Here's a wikipedia page about free education, but reading it again, I think it refers to post-secondary education:

    Another link: If you search for the word "free" in this article, you can see how many countries are listed as having "free and compulsory" secondary education, although I believe for most of these nations, since the secondary education IS compulsory, it would be free.

    Here's an article on free primary education:

    I was surprised to find that there are some countries that offer free college education, even to international students who come there. Can you imagine?


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