Thursday, June 23, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

I hate tests.  There.  I've gotten it out.  If you want to know how much I know about something, talk to me about it, see me in a relevant environment, talk to people who know me.  Don't give me a set of questions on paper (or a computer screen, or orally) that try to artifically assess something that can be assessed in the natural environment.  I can go on and on about assessment strategies.  But I won't do that today...

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, the time for NYC board of education mandatory testing of school aged children had arrived in our household.  Home-schoolers are told that if their children fall in the lower 33% of kids based on the test, your right to homeschool may be revoked.  I wonder who revokes the boe's right to keep kids in school if they keep falling in the lower 33%.  Anyway....   For weeks, I had been stressing, thinking about how much I do not teach to the test, how much I don't want to have these unnecessary conversations about how my kids are doing, what they are learning, how much I would like Simonne to just ace the test, yet how much I deeply believe such assessment instruments are not even worth the paper they are printed on.

I was really happy to have found an un-timed, homeschool friendly test that was accepted by the boe.  When it came in the mail, I looked through the questions and panicked.  54/9?  Explained in english, Simonne understands that quite well, but our use of symbolic notation is in its more infantile stages.  Plus, we haven't done traditional times tables.  I decided on a combination of counting by whatever number, and having to do the repeated addition to figure out multiplication.  My thought was that the more she had to do it the long way, the more the idea of a short way would make sense.  Such figurings take time, though and there is no guarantee that it will be sorted out by the May of  the school year in 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. grades.

My kids also don't have the healthy respect for tests that would have benefitted us in preparation for this projects, and they definitely don't have the stamina to do 40+ questions of any kind, no matter how simple!

So the test days arrive (determined by the 2 weeks it will take the scoring company to send me the results, and the latest possible time the boe can get the results).  I give Simonne a few brief instructions and set her on her task.
S: Mommy?  What's an adjective?  I haven't covered that.... one of my rules...  Zachary, you could take this pencil and I could use... sure, Easter Bunny could sit here with....
F: Zachary, could you leave Simonne alone for a little so she can finish the .... test we have no choice but to do?
S: Mommy, can I stop now?  And so it went for about the four days it took us to finish the 3 tests.

I was relieved to finally send the little pink paper with pencil shaded dots to the testing company.   We celebrated: No more of that for another 2 years!  Zachary won't see that for another 3!  And maybe we will move to a state that doesn't require testing before that time.  The importance of the test faded as soon as it had been completed, and virtually dissapeared when the stamp got on the envelope and it left the house.

10 days later, we had the results in the mail.  What an anticlimax!  Simonne did reasonably well, in approximately the 75th percentile of kids testing at her level nationwide.  The results  were pretty detailed, with suggested follow up goals, etc.  As I looked at her lower scoring areas, I was reminded again about the inadequacy of assessment instruments.  What do they mean by composition?, Isaiah asked as I read the information to him.  Oh, Ok, well she can definitely do that was his follow-up comment, so we dismissed their assessment. In other areas, she just didn't know because she didn't yet know, and we were ok with that.  Some of it, I hadn't even introduced, or just hadn't come up during the natural course of our life.

I can now say, no big deal.  But what if the results were different? If she had been in the lower one third of test takers, what then?  I'm not sure what it would mean, but am pretty clear about what it wouldn't mean.  It wouldn't change my view on assessments or of what I think would be important to learn.  During the weeks leading up to the test, I did change my more free flowing methods to a 'let's do math from the work book every day' strategy.   We didn't enjoy it as much.  I see how stressed teachers become about testing (and the possible loss of funding and jobs due to a school's poor performance) and how stressed students become as early as 7 and 8 in preparation for these assessments.  That's a life I definitely don't want.

The question is not one of prepare vs not preparing.  It's simply a matter of enjoyment.  I somehow decided that since I don't agree with such assessment strategies, I will not enjoy engaging them, my own form of protest with no audience.  Now that the tests have passed,  we have returned to a more natural, fluid, doing what comes up during the course of the day.  It's definitely a more joyful way to be.  Giving up my joy for the test that proved to be of little consequence was really much ado about nothing.  I'm hoping I remember this in 18 months when I'm ordering the next set of tests!

Whatever you decide to do today, enjoy it to the max!

(Here are some photos of things we enjoy more in the Clarke homeschool)

Figuring out how lip gloss works

Making a dragon from zoobs

Art! Art! and more of it!
Crocheting doll's clothes


1 comment:

  1. You were right, I did enjoy your post very much and can relate so well. G and I are about to sew a jane austen dress and b has been writing a role playing story. we looked up glow worms because we have them covering our yard. K helped me recall events from the past....homeschooling at its most joyful!

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