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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Standardised testing...

It is a question I have been asked before - more than once - "Can/do you give them standardised tests?"

Short answer:  yes, you can......but no, I won't.

Long answer.......

I was asked this same question by my Dad the other day.  He used to be a high school maths teacher, in my early Primary School years.  Maths was my worst subject & the hours he spent trying to tutor me always ended in both of us being angry & frustrated.  He had been raised by parents who highly valued academic acheivement and success, so all those things combined meant I hadn't really discussed our decision to home educate Jasmine with him.  I was biding my time, waiting for the 'right moment' (maybe when she was 18 or something).  However, we were 'outed' at my grandfather's funeral when a friend came up & started talking to me about our decision to home educate & how great she thought it was.  Dad was standing right next to me.  Ummmmm....SURPRISE!!!

Since that time, we haven't really discussed it any further.....until he asked the question about "standard testing" a few days ago.  I said no, then fobbed it off with, "that would imply my child is just average".  We had a little laugh and the subject was dropped.  I did make me think, though.  Not about whether I actually should test her at some point, but why testing is seen as such an important measure of learning.

I could write an essay on the history of institutionalised schooling, but a search on Google will fill you in on details if you've never looked into it without me having to ramble on too much to make my point (there's already going to be enough of that!).  Basically, schools were set up to train factory workers.  Sure, there has been progress since the 1800's, particularly in recent years with more progressive schools & inspirational teachers, but ultimately, they're still focussed on getting children ready to be good workers and tax payers.  They are fed the information other people deem 'essential' for them to know.  One teacher is in charge of delivering this information to 25-35 children at the same time.  Some of these kids will understand the concepts quickly & easily, others won't.  At the end of each term, the teacher has to remember as much as they can about each student & grade each one.

Throughout the term, children perform various tests to see if they understand the concepts.  I tend to think they're less about understanding, but more about being able to regurgitate information.  I was always one of those people who froze in a test/exam situation.  The minute I walked out of that room, the answers came flooding back.  I just didn't do well with tests.  I'd then get a bad result & feel bad about myself.  I was already shy as a child, so any blows to my self-esteem were felt intensely.

Also, the regular student grading system is fairly subjective (as I discovered one year when my regular English teacher went on leave - I went from a 'C' student to an 'A' student just by having a different teacher).  The subjective nature of term reports is one of the reasons standardised testing was brought in.

A number of factors come into play with institutionalised learning - the learning styles of the children, as I've already alluded to; the training of the teachers; the ability of the teachers to engage & interact with large groups of children of varying capabilities; funding to the school, as well as the socioeconomic background of the families attending & the level of support those families have.  In a supposed effort to ensure children have an equal quality of education, regardless of other factors, standardised testing was introduced.  I believe such tests tell us more about the teacher than the individual child.  Was that teacher able to provide the child with whatever resources they needed to learn the concept/pass the test?  Does the teacher have adequate resources & funding to perform their job efficiently?

Now, supporters of standardised testing will say, "But it's all about making sure the child is not falling behind."

I guess this is where your philosophy on education comes into play.

There are countless stories about home educated children who didn't read until they were 11, 12, 13 years old.  Most people would be horrified to hear this, but within only a few months, these same children regularly read material well above the level of their peers.  Had they undergone standardised testing, they would have been labelled "underacheivers", placed in a remedial program, pressured to do something their brains weren't ready for, stressed & feeling like they weren't "good enough".   Is it going to matter when they're adults that couldn't read until several years after they were expected to?  No.  Will it matter when they're adults that they are self-assured & not afraid of learning new concepts?  Absolutely!

If the child decides they want to pursue a tertiary education, those educated at home are considered highly as they tend to be more self-motivated & less burnt-out than someone coming straight out of high school.  Only about 40% of uni placements go to school-leavers.  The other 60% go to "alternate entry" students - mature-age entrants & home educated students who did not sit ACE tests (or equivalent).   Home educated children tend to out-perform school-educated children if/when they do sit the same tests & exams.  It has been estimated that each school child gets about 6 minutes per day of individual attention from their teacher(s).  I'm pretty sure Jasmine gets more than 6 minutes of my time each day ;)

I hope I have not come across as self-righteous in this post - passion & belief can often be misread that way.  But no, I will not be testing my child.  She will learn what she needs to learn when she is ready to learn it and her self-esteem will be all the stronger for it.  That is going to be more important in her life than if she was able to do exactly the same thing at the same age as her peers in childhood.

ETA:  Coming back to this a week & a half later to add a link to a fantastic blog about unschooling & the inherent issues with modern schooling.  Click here & spend a bit of time reading the various posts :)


  1. Nice post, and I agree (as you know!).

    For us the bottom line with testing is, what do we hope to learn and what do we intend to do about it. Daddy Snow and I don't believe that any tests would tell us much worth knowing, since we're already pretty aware of what the snowflakes are/aren't 'good at'. And, whatever the results, we'd be unlikely to change what we're doing anyway. So really there doesn't seem to be any point in having the kids take tests.

    It wouldn't surprise me to find that they are designed to be more useful for schools than for children and parents - ie, if a school produces an unexpectedly large percentage of low scores, this could indicate an issue with that school.