Testing comes standard
April 27, 2006 - Spring is in the air, and for students most everywhere, it is time to break out the No. 2 pencils and fill in some ovals. Standardized testing is back in season.
Some states require homeschoolers to complete standardized tests each year. In California, testing is not required for those students who file a private school affidavit with the state. Charter school students and students on independent study through their school generally do get tested through their schools. Distance learning students may or may not be tested, according to the rules of their particular program.
What do all these tests actually assess, and what does it matter, anyway? Some would argue that standardized tests measure a child's ability to take a standardized test. After all, some students get so nervous before a test that they find themselves unable to show what they know.
One night when I was in college, I stayed up with some fellow students studying for a midterm exam. After my friend Jill fell asleep on the carpet, the rest of us continued to toss questions back and forth. When we became hopelessly confused over one particular concept, Jill sat up, explained it to all of us and then passed out again.
The next day, everyone in the group got the question right except for Jill. She never tested well and almost failed the course. Yet, when it came time for clinic and applying what she had learned, she outperformed us all.
It may be difficult to imagine that someone would voluntarily sign up for testing, but there are many good reasons to give a standardized test. When we say a test has been standardized, it means that the questions on that test are given to thousands of students and the results compared. In doing so, we develop a gauge by which to judge progress.
Such tests provide snapshots of what a child has learned in a year. Standardized tests give a glimpse of how a child has grasped grade-level state standards. They also provide a percentile ranking, comparing students to one another. A child who scores at the 50th percentile is said to be doing better than 50 students of the same age (or grade) out of a total of 100 sample students.
Even with this in mind, it is important to remember that the tests have limits. They cannot measure countless ways a child has learned in a year; their measurement is limited to the questions on the test.
Standardized tests can be intimidating, especially when the test format is unfamiliar. Most tests have practice tests available to help students become accustomed to the method and style of the test.
There are tests and adaptations designed for home administration. Independent homeschoolers who want to test their kids can choose between testing their own kids or hiring someone else to do it. Some families trade off testing duties; others pool their efforts to put together testing days.
There are many yardsticks by which we measure success, and standardized testing is just one of those. Success - or failure - can't be summarized by a number on a page. Intellectual success is the sum total of book learning, life experience, hands-on activities and learning how to integrate little bits of learning into a whole body of knowledge.
Rose Godfrey is a speech pathologist and homeschooling mom in Marysville. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.