Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Standardized Testing


Remember the Iowa Tests that we had to take in elementary school? I do. I remember the preparation, then the actual taking of the tests (it took DAYS) and then anxiously awaiting scores and wondering what they meant as far as my "smarts" went and how it would affect the teacher I'd be assigned to next year, the reading groups I'd be placed in, and mostly...what my parents might think. Yikes. Way too much stress for an elementary school child if you ask me.

But then, nobody had ever told me that you didn't have to take the test. We all HAD to take the test right? OR so they would have us believe.

So, I think the very last standardized test I ever took was either the ACT or the SAT (both?) to get into college. And I've never needed or wanted to take another standardized test since then. The irony is that, for all the importance placed upon these tests, they have ever ever ONCE had any bearing on my "real life" experience after my schooling. How about you?

Did any of your employers ask for your ACT results? Did the OB ask for your SATs before they'd consent to help you on your way to parenthood? Did your neighbors ask for the scores when they were getting to know you? How about your church community or your children's school personnel? What? You mean there's no relation to real life and those silly standardized tests?

Then WHY on earth do we care about them so so much?

Let me tell you about my most recent encounter with testing. I'm due with our fourth child on Sept 7. Given that this coincides with the beginning of the school year, I had serious doubts about whether or not I could continue to home school this coming year. So I began to search out other options for my soon-to-be second grader, who has been doing second grade work all year long. She's 7 now and is a terrific learner. She excels at reading, logical reasoning, and math and science. Although she claims her favorite subject is history. She recently devoured several books on mummies and pyramids. Ever since she's been regurgitating the most interesting facts about ancient Egypt. Stuff I certainly never knew.

Anyway, I knew my daughter was "gifted" (public school word) and I didn't want her thrown into the masses. So, I thought that if I could get her into our district's "gifted" class room she'd at least have some chance of surviving the year without withering in boredom. The acceptance process for this very elite, select group of young scholars required several letters of recommendation, and survey, evaluation and MOST importantly testcores above 92% in all subject areas. wow.

I decided to give it a shot. If for nothing else, I just wanted to see the public school system in action...testing, evaluating, categorizing and compartmentalizing. In other words, standardizing. How the heck can you standardize intelligence anyway? Isn't that what they were looking for? The SMART kids? The GIFTED kids? How the heck can a test tell you that? Anyway, I thought I'd find out. We had already missed the main test date, but they were told we would be lucky to get into a special testing date held especially for private and homeschooled children. ooohhh, thank you so muuuuuuch for accommodating my little fam.

I made no big deal about the test. I didn't make any effort to prepare her or tell her why we were taking the test, other than it might help us decide if we would be homeschooling again next year or not. that's all. No stress. No "GOOD LUCK", no "DO YOUR BEST", no "GO GETTEM TIGER". Nothing like that. She calmly followed the staff into the testing room with a quick smile and a wave over her shoulder as she went. OF course, I was barred from the testing room. Heaven forbid she have any family support.

The test lasted four tedious hours. And I stayed on site waiting for her with my 2 and 4 year olds. I was equipped with food and toys to last that long. There was only one other boy there form a private school who promptly informed us that he had been studying and practicing for this test for WEEKS. Thanks kid. We needed that.

Anyway, as the test wore on, my daughter stopped coming to visit me on her breaks. She preferred to socialize with the other kid and play board games during break time. No surprise. My kids are all very social and enjoy making new friends everywhere they go. (So much for socially crippling my homeschooled children, eh?)

All right, we took the test. And to my relief we finally left and went home. Then came the months...yes I said MONTHS...of waiting. It was more than 2 months actually. I opened the envelope with some excited curiosity, I confess. that all faded into disbelief, outrage, and then complete disgust for what I had just allowed the public school system to do to my child.

The scores were not "good". They would indicate that my child needed remedial help in all subjects. So needless to say she was not accepted. There was a pity letter included, stating that I could repeal the process if I liked and try to convince the board that my daughter was smart enough to join the gifted class. No thanks.

I was so completely appalled by the system's inability to correctly identify a child's level of ability that I no longer wanted any part of it for me or my children...EVER. So, my decision was made then and there. They had already made a box for my child. And I knew that if I ever put her in public school, she would be labelled and crammed into that box for good. There would be no hope of breaking the cycle if I ever allowed it to begin.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Every mom wants to believe that their child is special, smart, gifted, talented, super uper duper the bestest in the wordlest. Right? And maybe you think I should really look at those scores and reconsider the path I'm taking with her.

Ohhh boy. If only I had recorded every comment I've had from Sunday school teachers, piano teachers, neighbors, relatives, preschool teachers, swim coaches, and the like regarding my child's unusual maturity, level headedness, brightness, ability to learn, ability to lead, ability to empathize and show compassion, etc. Not to mention the fact that I myself have been schooling her in curriculum considered to be well beyond her age level for nearly two years now. I'm pretty sure I've got a kid who would qualify for a "gifted" program. But that's neither here nor there.

My point is this: If I wasn't convinced before that standardized testing is a bunch of hooey, I certainly am now. It's meaningless. And how much time, money, effort, worry and stress does it cost our communities and our kids every single year! It's wasteful and wrong.

I've just read John Gatto's book Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling in which he confirmed my feelings that standardized testing is absolute nonsense. I recommend you read the book for a number of reasons. It's very enlightening. He makes the point that we could each be part of a revolution in which standardized testing is done away with in all schools, simply by refusing to take them. Interesting.

As for me and mine, I'll make every effort to avoid them in the future.

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