Tag Archives: testing

Why We’re Practicing for Standardized Testing Now

I could rant and rail for a little while about standardized testing and how much I can’t stand it and how detrimental one size fits all approaches to assessment make me nuts, and how most multiple choice tests are the equivalent of a broken thermometer in terms of assessing student learning and potential, but I’ll just leave it at this…

I really dislike high stakes testing.

That’s why we’ve mostly avoided it in our homeschool. We did dip into doing a practice assessment test one year a few years back, but I wasn’t sure that we got much out of it. It didn’t tell me much and the kids hated it.

However, last year, I decided to have the kids take the ITBS, aka, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. It’s a relatively easy, nationally normed test.

It was a bit of a disaster. Not the scores. The scores were fine. The things they excel at, they scored highly on compared to their peers. The things they aren’t as great at, they scored mediocre, though not abysmally, compared to their peers.

No, the problem was Mushroom and his anxiety. Plus, it really brought home for me how little practice they’ve had on testing like this. They’re really bright at many things, but knowing how to game a multiple choice test and what sort of questions are on there just isn’t one of them.

That’s why, beginning this year, we’ve started prepping for the SAT and ACT, as well as generally prepping for any other standardized tests they might take in high school, such as AP exams.

I know. It’s a little nuts. They’re in eighth grade. However, this isn’t as far off as all that. We’re using simple prep materials and doing very little overall. We’re only spending half an hour a week on the weeks we do it. On the morning I go to yoga and they are busy with co-op for most of the day, they do a little practice and we go over it later.

My feeling is that you don’t want this to sneak up on kids. And while Mushroom and BalletBoy are smart, they’re not such academic superstars that they don’t need this explicit practice in order to excel. I would rather do this than spend a several months trying to pull up an unexpectedly low score that’s keeping them from their goals three years from now. Overall, I think a little bit spread over time goes a lot farther for both peace of mind and performance than a panicked need to cram beforehand.

However, the main reason is that I think it may genuinely take three years of occasional practice with this type of testing to get Mushroom to the point where his anxiety doesn’t sabotage him when he heads into a test that actually means something for his future, no matter what it may be. The best cure for a phobia is slow exposure. I don’t really understand how he acquired this one, having been so little exposed to this sort of testing and my having taken such pains to be gentle about the few exposures he has had. However, it’s a phobia and the process of getting used to it is definitely better if it’s done in a slow and deliberate way.

In the end, I still think standardized tests are a poor measure of a student. The ones that have been slapdash thrown together for Common Core are especially terrible and the barrage of multiple tests every year for students is harmful and not conductive for learning. However, as we go forward, at least a couple of standardized tests will be part of life for Mushroom and BalletBoy, so it’s only common sense to start preparing early so there’s time to be relaxed about it.


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.