Saturday, April 06, 2013

Teaching to the Test

The Duchess turned 8 before this school year began, which means she has met the minimum school age in our state and must complete a standardized test every year. This isn't shown to anybody so it always has seemed a rather pointless requirement, but it is the law and if it makes them feel better, it is no great burden to us. Especially not now that (as I discovered) you can just get them done online. As far as Duchess was concerned, it was a freebie 3 hours of computer time she didn't have to earn. So what if it was all bland multiple choice questions?

When I was a kid, this was our big social event of the year, as we went down to our church's Christian school and did them in the nursery. We didn't usually actually do them with the class--that would have taken too long and we were always impatient--but we could go out at recess and play with the other kids. Also we got cooler snacks than usual. It was still very low-key--in fact, we often graded the results ourselves, or I graded them for the younger kids once I was done with mine. One year Rocketboy tested with the first and second grade class (I'm not sure why, he shouldn't have needed to take them yet--maybe just to keep him out of the way?) and brought home the chicken pox. That was most unfair to the rest of us, who being considerably older suffered far worse than he did.

I have mixed feelings about standardized tests. On the one hand, they pretty handily demonstrate all that is most wrong about systematized, impersonal, factory-model education. And building curriculum on the basis of scoring well on these tests is about the best guarantee of creating a curriculum that would bore anyone to tears.

On the other hand, they just don't seem that hard to me. Mind-blowingly dull, yes. But not hard. If you can read and think clearly, it's not that difficult to score well. And you don't have to be teaching to the test to teach reading and thinking.

Still, this was my first encounter as the teacher and I was a wee bit nervous. Especially about math. And grammar. I don't hold to the standard methods or sequence for teaching those subjects. Duchess has never done a page out of a math or grammar workbook. She reads a lot, she writes (or copies) a lot, we do lots of mental math and real-life problems and math games, but I have never shown her how to do multi-digit math problems on paper, or taught her the rules for comma usage, and I knew the test would be full of that sort of thing. Not that it mattered. But still. I figured we had reading comprehension and vocabulary and spelling covered, but everything else was up in the air. Mostly I didn't want to shake her confidence that she was good at math and that it was fun, and standardized tests are designed to have problems that are too difficult. Or there might have been a little bit of fear that I was teaching it all wrong. Maybe.

She did get a little concerned when she saw multiple-digit multiplication and other things she had never encountered before, but I told her to just think it through as best she could and give it her best guess. And she did. And it worked--in fact, she was off the chart in math concepts and way up in computation, despite never having done long division in her life. Grammar was the lowest, but even so she did fine, on the rather simple principle of "what looks right."

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of making up word searches, designing historic paper dolls, and jumping off the bed.


Rachelle said...

One blessed thing about moving to MI when we did...No testing, no notifying, nothing. It would have been Ben's first year to declare and participate in testing. I'm not opposed to it but it nice to keep going with what he is doing and not worry about what he would be learning in "school."

Queen of Carrots said...

Still, WA is so much better than what I was looking at in OH--detailed curriculum list every year, starting at 6. :-P

Wendy said...

Glad we don't have to take the tests!

The school system kindly offers them (for free!)because home schoolers raise their averages.

Amy K said...

We haven't gotten the results back yet but M took her first ITBS last week. I had similar feelings as you about math since we have taken a less traditional route. It's interesting bc it's the first time I've had those teacher/parent feelings too!