Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Standardized Testing

Recently, while reading “Your Child’s Strengths” by Jennifer Fox, I was challenged to
consider the function of standardized testing, and its impact on a child's learning experience.

I’ve tested in the past, because the state requires it. Some parents use the test results to determine the child’s weaknesses or strengths, but in my case the test indicated that the child was weak everywhere. I knew this was not the case, and I witnessed her marking the wrong answers, knowing in my heart that she knew better.

So, if I had taken the time to teach her how to quickly find the correct multiple choice answer, or test strategies in general, would we have sacrificed real learning time in the process? Would the natural learning, and the wonder of such, been lost while we focused on how to find the answer that the test would be looking for?

I do not believe that what my children have learned over the span of twelve months, can be reflected in a four hour multiple choice test. I wouldn’t want to have my homemaking, gardening, photography, or parenting skills determined by such.

Consider the task of bread making. There are many elements at play to create a blue-ribbon loaf of homemade bread. If you provided a multiple choice test to determine if a person knows the basics of bread baking, you might offer the following questions.

Which wheats are high in protein?
What role does salt play during the rise of the dough?
What ingredient could you add to prevent baking a dense loaf?
How does humidity affect the bread making process?

All of these answers can be found with a quick internet search, and memorized rather quickly for a standardized test. But, would a person who knew these answers be able to bake a loaf of bread. I seriously doubt it.

There is not a set amount of flour needed to make a tasty loaf. You have to work with dough for a while to know when you’ve added enough flour, as the humidity greatly determines when enough, is enough.  How do you write that into a standardized test question?

Yet, if you tested me, on the questions above, I might not remember the correct answer.  I just know what it takes to make a delicious loaf.  Can you imagine how devastating a poor test score on this topic would be for me? Especially, if being hired at a bakery was determined by such a test. Would I have come to love bread baking if the emphasis of the learning was on such boring facts, and my ability to memorize them?

How do you use standardized test results? Are they a true reflection of your child’s knowledge? Do you share them with your children? Do you spend time reviewing and preparing for the test?  Do you believe that preparing is a valuable use of your learning time?

As you consider these questions, here are the thoughts, of one boy, regarding testing:

“Anyway, I don’t really like to read so much anymore. I feel like we have to read fast and like there are only some things in the book that matter, the things on the test, and I can’t think about the story as much as I used to because I am trying to guess what will be on the test.”

“Your Child’s Strength” by Jennifer Fox, copyright 2008, p.33


Nicole Religioso said...

Great post! I totally felt lost when I entered university. I was so used to getting straight a's in high school by "memorizing" textbooks. In university where I was challenged to *think* for myself...I was lost. I had to completely change the way I learned things! No small feat!

Nicole from www.Faithinsmallthings.com

Savannah McQueen said...

Thanks Nicole. I really appreciate you reading it and taking the time to post.

MissMOE said...

I believe standardize test taking is a learned skill--an important skill at that. I've never had my younger kids take standardized tests, but around 7th-grade they become a part of my school plan. Standardized tests pop up as the SAT and ACT and then again throughout college. So, we learn the tricks of different test and practice taking them. I make sure to emphasis that these test don't test anything, but the ability to take a test. My kids know standardize tests don't actually test your knowledge in most cases. It's a sad state our country is in that we place so much value on such a small skill set--taking A test instead of on real knowledge.

Betty Marie said...

I remember laughing when my daughter read a story on a standardized test about a boy's birthday and was asked what the main idea was. The correct answer was that the boy had a birthday party on his birthday. My girl picked that the girl got a puppy... that was much more important than the party, you know! I like testing in math to discover some of our "holes" and I like some grammar testing in upper elementary... outside of that... I think testing is quite overrated and teachers are now bound and not allowed to present any lesson in class that doesn't specifically correspond with one of the benchmarks for "the test"...

Tammy said...

Wow, great post. Something to think about for sure...we have only taken one because my cover school required it. I have come to a place where I would choose them to teach test taking skills, but not for much else. Again, great post.

PS...are you on twitter?

OneMommy said...

As a former teacher I hated having to deal with those tests. You're right, I had to spend time teaching my kids test-taking strategies, time I could have otherwise used to teach materials that they and myself might have actually enjoyed but weren't "on the test".

Ellen, the Bluestocking Belle said...

I deplore standardized tests. Since my state requires testing every three years, I use the CAT5 short form and administer it at home. The less bother and stress, the better.

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