Sunday, March 4, 2012

You Can Keep Your #2 Pencil

This week's Blog cruise question is "Do you administer standardized testing in your homeschool?  Why or why not?"  You can probably tell from my snarky title that we don't test in our home.  My reasons are based on two anecdotes I'd like to share.

To begin, we used to live in the state of Indiana where all public school students were required to take the ISTEP exam at several points in their academic career and pass it as a junior or senior in order to graduate.  Before I homeschooled, I worked in the accounting department of a not-for-profit organization.  One day a co-worker, knowing I had to have a good math background, asked me if I'd ever heard of "Front End Rounding."  I confessed that the term was new to me but I assumed it must have something to do with estimating an answer before actually solving a complex problem.  She proceeded to tell me just how wrong I was.  She had been helping her elementary age son with his math homework.  He had a sheet of paper filled with numbers to be rounded.  She applied her own math knowledge and helped him to round place values containing 0-4 down and 5-9 up.  When they finished the son said "I don't think we did this right," and he showed her the instructions sent home by the teacher.  Per the instructions, you only look at the "front end" of the number and change everything else to a zero--so 499 would be rounded to 400 not 500.   My friend helped her son change his answers to comply with the instructions but she had a few questions at the next parent/teacher conference.

Why was the teacher instructing his students this way?  Because that's the way the ISTEP test handled rounding.  So the state of Indiana was teaching students how to pass the ISTEP but fail at life--at least fail when it comes to determining how much carpet to buy or how much paint to cover the walls.   The goal of my son's education is to prepare him to succeed in life, not score in the 99th percentile.  We study topics that will never come up on a standardized test and don't cover those ridiculous things just because they will be tested. 

 Our second tale comes from my mother's nursing school friend.  Their test to become LPN's had the same multiple choice, fill-in-the circle format.  After the test the friend admitted that when she didn't know the answer she would look at the sweep second hand on her watch.  She would choose her answer based  on which quadrant of the watch face the second hand lay--between 12 and 3 was an "A", between 3 and 6 was a "B."   She ended up passing the test but I wouldn't want her taking care of me in the hospital.  "Let's see,  what pills were you supposed to have today?  Well if my second hand is near the 2 I'll give you the blue ones,  if it's near the 7 I'll give you the yellow ones."   I can remember taking standardized tests and being told I wouldn't be penalized for guessing so it is possible if not probable to pass one without knowing any of the material at all.

I guess the bottom line to testing is that I don't need it to know what my son knows...I work with him every day in school.  I can tell when the light bulb goes off in his head and I can tell when I need to try a different approach because he's just not getting it.  I don't need to know how he ranks compared to other students.  Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing says that those kind of test results can only lead to false pride (if he scores high) or false self-criticism (if he's average or below average).

At some point, long down the road,  I'm sure we'll need to take the PSAT or something similar to prepare Schnickelfritz for college admission tests.  Some of the other participants in this week's Blog Cruise may have an entirely different take on the subject.  But for us right here and now, you can just keep your #2 pencil.


Kym Thorpe said...

I totally agree with your reasons for not doing standardized testing. We don't do it either - and it's not required in our state. I've got one child who has graduated from our homeschool and from a broadcasting school and he didn't even do the SAT! =8-O

Nicole said...

I completely agree with you! Thankfully Oklahoma has no testing requirements!!

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