I think I should qualify this slightly; as we belong to a Charter we do have to suffer one standardized test per year. STAR testing is not so bad — though I might be singing a different tune if I had to weather it more than once a year. And it doesn’t really reveal nearly as much as they think it does. The worst thing STAR testing does is threaten schools that are actually doing something outside of the box, like our homeschool charter, who got a nice warning. Never mind that they are offering a unique form of education to students that most schools don’t want anyway (our charter has an unbelievably large percentage of learning disabled kids), and never mind the fact that they have an incredible number of unschooled kids (who don’t learn everything in the same order as the state prescribed age requirements), they still better get those test scores up or else.
There are a lot of strange truths about standardized tests, including the fact that they’re designed to make sure a child meets the minimum requirements, but cannot indicate if the child exceeds the levels for their grade. In public school, the run up to STAR testing time is one big cram session, making sure that kids have the information to pass the test shoved into their heads. Truth is they may forget all the information a week after the test is over.
STAR tests are only one example of standardized tests. Public schools finish up each section with a standardized test that supposedly tells whether the students took in the information they’ve just been shown. But many opponents of standardized tests say that the information ends up being presented to prepare the students only to take the test, and for that reason, the data usually only makes it into short-term memory. Worse, many teachers are pouring the information so fast that children aren’t allowed to do what it takes to really understand it. They can regurgitate the facts as presented to to them, but they have no comprehension of what it means. I know at least four families that came to homeschooling simply to avoid standardized tests.
Beyond the STAR test, and the Scantron computerized test he takes as part of his charter, I don’t test Pumpkin. He actually likes taking the Scantron. That computer test is designed to offer children more and more difficult questions until they start to make mistakes. It stops after a prescribed number of mistakes. As you might imagine, a gifted kid (who doesn’t have testing issues) can really blow the top off of a Scantron test. For most kids, this test is supposed to take about 15 minutes. Pumpkin has never had one last less than an hour. The one he took a few weeks ago showed him at the top of the test difficulty for math and language arts. This is approximately 10th grade. He’s eight. He might have gone higher if he hadn’t gotten tired in each one and decided to purposefully miss a few. I’m not sharing to brag, but rather to illustrate the differences between this and the STAR standardized test, which showed him proficient for 3rd grade just three months ago. That’s quite a difference isn’t it? So what are professionals learning from standardized tests? Not all that much, really.
Teachers also get frustrated with all the testing. Particularly as some schools have decided to tie performance evaluations to the teachers’ test scores. And here’s the thing about an average, in order to really get a middle ground in achievement, wouldn’t you have to be able to see the kids who are exceeding expectation as well as the kids who aren’t quite meeting it? The more learning disabilities a classroom has, the less likely the teacher is to get tenure. But the tests are not designed to indicate exceptional knowledge, and maybe that ends up limiting what a teacher offers. With such a push to get everyone to the same level, the kids who thirst for more are inevitably neglected to bring the laggers up to scratch. That sort of program cannot even begin to address why some students are lagging. Worse, it creates a terrible situation for students with test anxiety. For those kids, public school and the constant testing would be tantamount to torture.
As a parent, if my kid is in school, I want him to learn something. I’m not sure he can learn in a situation where test scores are the primary objective. The few tests we have to take to satisfy the charter are just a cross we have to bear. If we can someday leave the charter (if we have the finances to do so) I won’t test him at all.