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.