Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hell Week (AKA Standardized Testing)

This week we are in the middle of Hell.

Actually, it's just the administration of the California Achievement Test (CAT)... but it feels like Hell.

The lovely state of North Carolina requires that every student enrolled in home school take a nationally recognized standardized test each school year. Our chosen form of torture is the CAT.

We don't do anything special to prepare for the test administration. No reviews or lessons on test-taking strategies. We just sit at the dining room table with number 2 pencils and a timer. You would think it would be pretty stress free. You would be wrong.

The youngest child has dissolved into tears on at least three different occasions. She's the epitome of a virgo perfectionist. She struggles over each and every question, even the easy ones, pencil poised above the bubble sheet, paralyzed with fear that she will mark the wrong answer. She cries when she's frustrated. I hate that testing makes her cry.

Her older brother zips through the sections like it's a race. He would rather be doing other things. Anything really. He has slammed the test booklet shut and escaped the room before time is up on every single test section. He has no desire to check his answers, no stress over how well he's done. He's just happy to be finished.

They have two very different test-taking personalities. Which one is more effective?

Watching them test makes me wonder just how well the test measures their knowledge. Because it doesn't matter how many fraction problems they've completed correctly at that dining room table in the past. It doesn't matter how well they comprehend what they read or how well they punctuate their writing on any other day. The only thing that the test measures is if they answer the questions correctly. It doesn't measure how well they know the material because when the test is rushed through or constantly second-guessed through tears and fear, how well does that measure real knowledge and thinking skills?

No. The test measures how well students take a test.

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter who is currently enrolled in an early college high school program, is wading through exam review. Next week is semester finals. The school dedicates two weeks of instruction time for exam review. She has to watch an informational video on testing rules for each exam she has to take. The same video. Over and over. The same video she watched last semester. And the semester before that.

That's two weeks of her education every semester focused on taking a test. Not on learning important information or math concepts or critical thinking. Two whole weeks committed to ensuring testing success.

In North Carolina, those standardized tests determine teacher effectiveness and student success. They even influence teacher bonuses and school funding.

But it doesn't measure learning. It measures how well the students take a test.

Makes me wonder how many students are like my younger daughter, agonizing and questioning herself over every single item. Or how many are like my son, flying through without really caring how well they perform.

How are either of those tests a true measure of knowledge? They aren't, but the Powers That Be say we must take them. So we'll walk through this week of Hell just to get back to the real learning... which is exactly what those poor public school kids are doing this week, too.

Happy Hell Week, everyone. Godspeed.

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