Testing, One, Two, Three…


For the first time this year, we decided to have a go at “standardized testing.”  I chose not to bother with a “real” test.  We are fortunate to live in a place where we don’t have to test, so for this year, I just gave them a practice third grade test from a cheap test prep book.

When I first got into education, before I had kids, I went in with a total animosity towards nearly all forms of standardized testing.  Teaching history in a public school in Virginia under the SOL tests didn’t dissuade me from it either.  The tests were over-emphasized and poorly written.  It was hard not to want to rail against them.

Since then, I’ve come around about testing.  In context, I think it’s a good thing.  The problem as I see it is that these standardized tests have become the whole, overarching focus of public schooling when, in reality, they are one small measurement.  I often say that they are the thermometer of education.  Useful, but not a complete picture of health.  For that, you need x-rays, blood panels, swabs of various sorts, weight and height, and so on and so forth.  Well, I already know my kids’ weight and height and so forth, so I decided that third grade was a decent time to take a practice temperature reading.

My main goal was simply to introduce the idea of testing.  They learned to bubble in, which was an amusing skill they lacked (they initially wanted to circle the answers).  To make them feel at ease, we had muffins and fruit and classical music during the testing.  It mostly worked, though Mushroom had a very rough morning on one of the days and had to take a long break from the math test in order to calm himself down.

I don’t know that I learned much about them.  They both did extremely well on the reading section, respectably on the math section, and poorly (though in totally different ways) on the language section.  The language section of the practice test we used wanted them to be able to find a lot of errors and spell words with a lot of difficult spelling rules.  I’m sure most third graders have memorized them instead of learning the spelling rules and that they have a lot more of these sort of “find the error” lessons, which we’ve done a few of, but not that many.  It also asked them to alphabetize things, a skill we haven’t ever practiced and they didn’t quite get since they use electronic dictionaries more than the old-fashioned one.  Most amusingly, it asked where you would find the phone number of a restaurant.  The right answer, said Mushroom, should have been, “the restaurant dot com.”  The test mistakenly thought it was “a telephone directory.”  Silly test makers.

Next year, maybe we’ll give a “real” test and see how they stack up against other kids instead of just how they did on their scores overall.


8 thoughts on “Testing, One, Two, Three…

  1. What book was this from? I think my husband would like something like this, just as reassurance that things are within reasonable range and get some sort of “impartial” identification of any problem areas.

    1. I was mostly just being cheap. The ITBS costs about $30 per kid and the CAT costs about $25 per kid, so this is literally just a Spectrum test prep thing that I got for $5. It had a sample test in there for math, reading, and language so I just pulled those apart and copied them and made them “the test.” Taking one that isn’t compared against other kids like this gives you a different kind of data, if that makes sense. Sometimes kids can get all the questions right on a normed test and only get in the 80% percentile if everyone else gets them all right and other times they can miss a bunch of questions and still get in the 90% percentile if lots of kids missed more questions. So you just have to keep that in mind if you’re just doing a faux test. But it does give you an idea of what your child “should” know versus what they do know.

  2. I’ve given tests before and for the same reason – to introduce the girls to the concept. I had the experience of being surprised in a few areas. =) Overall, I think it was a good experience for my kids and for me.

  3. Funny, I have only good memories of taking the SOLs during your class 😉 You make great points about how the content of standardized testing needs to change to match how people actually look up information. Telephone directory? When was the last time anyone used one of those? I’ve been really enjoying your blog, Farrah. My son is happily in daycare right now but I want to save your book recommendations and ideas (poetry tea!) for when the time comes.

  4. I did that last year with my son. I printed off an old version of the Texas standardized tests and had him spend a couple days taking them. There were no surprises. We haven’t worked on probability, so he didn’t do well on those in the math portion, but everything else he did great with. *shrug* I’ll probably have him do a few more as he gets older, just so he has a clue what the ACT and SAT will be like in high school. I don’t want him going in blind.

  5. You’re right about the “find the error” practice–my kiddo got many worksheets on this throughout elementary school. Thanks for the book recommendations in another post. I have never quite gotten logic, so maybe these will help. (It’s never too late to learn!)

  6. Living in VA and having had my son complete SOLs here, I am now struggling with the ‘What test do I give him now that we’re homeschooling because we legally have to test yearly?’ CAT? Stanford? Let the miserable public school I pulled him out of test him with their stupid tests?

  7. It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and I forgot how much I enjoy your take on things 🙂 We haven’t yet done any testing, but I have been tossing around the idea, just to get a feel for how they’d do if they had to. I love that you had music and muffins – just perfect!
    Glad I checked in 🙂

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