Monday, April 2, 2012

Why Test?

When we withdrew Amber from her parochial school, I immediately applied through BJU (Bob Jones University Press) to become a tester for the Standford 10 (SAT) standardized test.  It was a very fortuitous situation.  Amber's school had been using the Standford 10 to test the children each spring and here I had the ability to become a tester and administer the test to her myself.  The rules had changed in the last few years allowing parents to test their own children, thank goodness.

We knew that we wanted Amber to go ahead and test again this year, since she was only about 6 weeks away from the time when her school would have been testing.  We also realized that the results of this test would mostly reflect only what she had learned in her parochial school and very little of the homeschooling lessons, and that was fine.  We wanted to have a base measurement and to see how it would go at home for the testing before we had a mostly complete school year of homeschooling.

I must say the standardized tests when administered at the school were treated as a serious time of utmost importance.  Notes were repeatedly sent home in advance admonishing the parents to schedule nothing during the week, to put our children to bed on time and if possible to keep them from getting sick.  It bordered on ridiculous.  The environment at the school during testing week was equally stressful.  Classroom doors all shut with the windows covered so there were no distractions from the hall.  All the classrooms have big signs saying "Testing in progress, do not disturb".   Amber reported that their desks were not moved apart from each other, so they had their "math offices" around their desk tops making each one a tiny cubicle barely big enough for the test book and answer sheet.  The children sat at those desks for hours taking these "most important tests".

At this point, I'd like to say no funding for her parochial school was tied to test results.  I'm not even sure that accreditation with the non-public schools and Lutheran Schools associations were tied to it.  The accreditation may have been helped by they fact that they gave the tests, but not the test scores.

Amber is not a good tester.  This is a fact that is not reflected in her test scores, entirely.  She got A's and A+'s in all her classes and the grades were weighted at least 50% on the test grades, if not more.  She scored, consistently, in the 96% and above in all subjects (except listening) on standardized testing. Actually, I should say she scored 98% in all subjects except listening which is low and social sciences that was 96%.   Given these scores, I realize it is odd that I say she doesn't test well.  The thing is, she finds it so stressful that she freaks out.  She almost can't function.  She misses the most basic of items at times, can't remember simple items (like teacher name), and generally feels poorly.   I understand her issues.  I have diagnosed Panic Disorder myself, and have always had severe test anxiety.

So, given the test problems she has, why test her?  Well...

First, we wanted to continue to have a level of comparison with her previous scores to see how homeschooling appears to be doing.  Will a lower test scores mean we will stop homeschooling? No. It might mean we change some things unless we already know why the scores are lower.  For example, looking over the test before I gave it to Amber I saw some questions in the Social Sciences section that she would have been unable to answer had she continued at the parochial school. They just were not covering those topics.  In a stroke of luck, we hated her Social Studies curriculum and switched to using the Alpha Omega LIFEPAC for 5th grade.  The new history curriculum had already covered the items she would have definitely missed had she stayed with the parochial curriculum.  I don't know if she got the questions correct or not, I didn't check. But she at least had a chance.

Second, we wanted to show her that testing doesn't have to be stressful or really be of any importance except informational.  We told her to do her best, because it would help us see where to work more with her.  She is usually very good about doing her best.  We appear to have met our goal on this reason. After the first subtest of her SAT, she realized how calm this would be and that I wasn't going to stick her behind a "math office".  Instead she sat in the breakfast room with a view of the backyard.  It was quite tranquil.  Amber even told me that she "loved doing her standardized testing".

Third, our homeschooling time has an end date that is not 12th grade.  Amber will return to the Lutheran parochial school system for high school, possibly sooner.  She will need to be able to take standardized tests and understand how they work.   The high school she will attend is a private / parochial school and it does not use teacher / school recommendations as the main basis for class level assignments.  The children at the high school come from many different parochial elementary schools, public schools and homeschool.  It is very difficult to mesh all of the various grading systems and standards into the high school's academic levels.  They do not entirely ignore grades and teacher recommendations, however, ALL incoming freshmen take placement exams to assist in determining their level as compared to the high school's academics.

We want Amber to feel comfortable testing and to learn that test results are not the end of the world.  Yes, she has a fairly important set of tests looming ahead in 8th grade, but she will either show them what she can do or spend Freshman year showing them what she can do and get moved to appropriate classes later.  It isn't the end of the world.

These are our reasons for continuing to administer the standardized tests to Amber through her homeschool time.

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