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What Testing Was Like
This article, by Danetta Mecikalski, was originally published in the May-June 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.
My husband, Mark, was very insecure about our untraditional educational route. He saw some of the emotional benefits of home education, and he knew that the boys were having fun, but for him the bottom line is education. Would they have more opportunities in the future if they attended school? Were we keeping up to grade level? He also felt that children need to know how to test for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that college entrance exams are standardized types of tests.
While I believe that the boys have plenty of time to learn how to take standardized tests (they are 9 and 11!), I was not opposed to testing for a variety of reasons.
First of all, I believe that it is healthy for my husband to worry about whether his boys are receiving the best education that they can receive. If he didn't care about their education, I believe that I would have a far bigger problem on my hands! I want Mark to be satisfied that we are doing a good educational job as well as providing for the emotional needs of our children.
In addition, one is tested in a variety of ways throughout one's life, and standardized testing is just Them. I knew that the test would not reflect the history or science or French or art or music that we had done, Interviews don't' always pick the best person for the job, either. Olympic's take place on an athlete's "off" day. But, it is better to face an evaluation with equanimity than the fear and dread that I often hear expressed. Evaluation is just a fact of life.
Finally, I always did so well on those tests, that I used to enjoy them! I know there are people who "don't test well," but I loved finding out where I stood and how much I knew. I anticipated that Aaron would do well, and that Mark would be happy and reassured that all was well with his sons, so that he could relax a little.
I had to scrounge a bit to find the tests. I called our local elementary school. The principal agreed on the spot to include our children in the school's Iowa testing in April. Would my son's results have been averaged in with her school's results? She knew my son and probably knew that his scores wouldn't hurt her standings in the district! But later she called to tell me that it was illegal for the district to administer the test to any home schoolers. The state superintendent's office had informed all school districts that they were not to test home schoolers. I suspect that the reason is that they know the statistics as well as us homeschoolers: we test much better as a whole than schooled children. It doesn't look too good to have unqualified parents show up with better results than the professionals!.
I next called a private Christian school, but despite several messages, I never received a return call. My next step was due to growing desperation. I knew that I could mail-order the tests from a variety of sources and administer them myself, but I wanted a more impartial setting, since my children were bound to complain and ask for lots of breaks if I was the proctor. There are more distractions in my home, as well: dogs barking, telephones ringing, snacks in the cupboard. I called a couple of well-known private schools in town, one at the appropriate level for each of my sons. The people I spoke to could not have been nicer. St. Gregory administers the PSAT --the last testing date for spring was the next Saturday. Could I bring in Aaron (11) to be tested at no charge? Calvert of Tucson was indignant that the state would not allow our school district to test my children. Didn't we pay taxes? It was probably unconstitutional and should be challenged in court! They told me that they would test Jordan, my 8 year old, with the Iowa test in April, again at no charge!
I would be lying if I said that I had no concerns about the testing. We hadn't studied spelling or grammar formally in over a year. It hadn't seemed to work for our family and we had concentrated on reading and discussing great poetry and literature. Aaron had not yet finished fractions and had not done geometry yet. Was he at grade level? The temptation to teach to the test was overwhelming, and I am glad that we had only a week before the test so we didn't have much of a chance to fret over it. Also, Aaron was not sure that he wanted to take the test and he had not been in a classroom for 2 years. Would he sabotage the test because he didn't want to be there? Would he get tired from the uninterrupted concentration and develop a headache? Would he tense up in an institutional setting?
The test was administered in St. Gregory's library. There were only a few students at this last test date of the year and the atmosphere was relaxed and unhurried. It would only last 2 1/2 hours and the students could get up, get a drink, and walk around outside for a few minutes if they wished. Nevertheless, I stayed outside in the car for the whole 2 1/2 hours just in case Aaron should need me.
As little as I fretted over this, I still fretted too much! Aaron took it all in stride (remember how confident homeschoolers tend to be?). When he came out from the test he said "I didn't know you were out here! Were you here the whole time? The lady wants to talk to you..."
I couldn't resist. "Well, how was the test?"
"It was fun! I feel refreshed, like everything has been completely emptied out of my brain and I feel...refreshed! Can I take the test again tomorrow?"
The test proctor had graded the test immediately because she wasn't sure when I could get back for the results, and she wanted to save me a trip. Aaron did well. All they tested were language mechanics (punctuation), reading comprehension, arithmetic, and math applications (story problems). That's about what our local school district did when Aaron was in the third grade, because each subtest costs additional money and the districts feel a bit pinched for cash. Interestingly, Aaron scored a 79% on the grammar portion, despite the lack of workbook pages that he would have had to slog through in public school. The test results confirmed that he is smart enough to lead a good life if he uses good judgment and works hard. Honestly, I knew that already!
And I could just hear a big sigh of relief from Mark. He also was amazed and indignant that we could do as well (and better) as the schools. He now feels that the schools are in really bad shape if we can do so well just having fun--reading great stories, skipping workbook pages that we already understand, building things on the kitchen table, discussing everything as we drive around town, I'm so glad that everyone in our family is now comfortable with what we are doing--as a team!
Testing may not be needed or desirable for all children, but when the time for testing comes around, for whatever reason, a calm healthy attitude and lots of love and support will make this just another experience in the lives of our wonderful homeschooled children.
- Copyright 1996 Danetta Mecikalski
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