Friday, March 16, 2007

Down with Tests

I'm homeschooling my child. I have politely declined to take advantage of the government's offerings, and have taken the responsibility for Benny's education off the public school and onto my own shoulders. I have showed them proof that I'm capable of teaching him, and have been released from my legal obligation to deliver him to school every day. But I still have to give him a government sanctioned test every year, to make sure I'm keeping him up to date. Benny is in first grade this year, and this year he has to take the test. And that's making me irritated.

I know that this is no big deal. And I'm not worried about how he will do on the test. I've looked at the standards of learning for first grade and he has more than finished them. It won't take a lot of time out of our week to do this test, and then it'll be over. But I don't want him to take it.

I like homeschooling because we can study whatever the children are interested in, and move at a pace that is comfortable and challenging for him. I like the fact that he's not in public school, where standardized tests are so important, and the teachers have to spend a large part of the year making sure the material on them is drilled into the children's heads. I don't think "No Child Left Behind" is doing anyone any favors -- I know lots of parents and teachers that violently loathe the whole system, and the teach-to-the-test phenomenon is one of the big reasons we homeschool.

Yet here we are, looking down the barrel of a standardized test.

In order to continue homeschooling, without being put on a year's probation, we have to score above the 25th percentile. That's a pretty low number, so it's not like I'm nervous and intimidated. I'm just irritated, and to be honest, part of why I'm irritated is that the standard is so low. If he had to score above the 90th percentile, I might feel like, okay, this has a purpose. But sitting him down in front of this test for several hours so that he can try to score over the 25th percentile seems ridiculous. Sorry if I sound petulant, or snotty, but it's like loading up a show jumper in a horse trailer, packing up all of its tack and equipment, driving across the country, settling in at the show grounds, grooming and prepping him on show day, and then walking him out into the ring to step over a two by four on the ground.

Consider the year we've had. We've studied the Galapagos Islands, Handel's operas, the moons of Jupiter, rain forest insects. We've finished addition and subtraction, moved on to multiplication and division. We've learned to say things like "There are more humans than horses" in Spanish. We've been skiing, swimming, horseback-riding and hiking. He earned a green belt in karate, finished Suzuki book 2, and learned the breast stroke. He participated in an egg drop contest, an art show, a book club, many recitals, and an acting class. He has learned to read chapter books and reads voraciously to himself, at a middle school level. This year we went to aquariums in three different states. But this not enough of a first grade experience. In fact, none of this matters at all. What really matters to the school district is that now he has to get into the 26th percentile on the California Achievement Test.

So what is my problem? I have to ask myself -- am I looking for approval here? Am I looking for someone in the public school system to say, "Wow, you were right, Lydia! You CAN do a good job homeschooling! We never would have been able to do all that stuff with him. Good job!" I mean, obviously, that is a stupid thing to wish for. They're not there to lead cheers for me; they're just there to make sure we're not sitting in our basement peeling potatoes all day. I get that. There is no prize for homeschooling well except the homeschooling itself, and the fine education of your child. And that should be prize enough.


Except now that the test time has come around, I suddenly find myself having all these thoughts. Feeling so resentful. Demanding that someone recognize that my child has worked hard and enthusiastically, that I have knocked myself out teaching, and that we don't need to be measured by this stick. Is it just the introduction of any kind of evalutation that makes me want to somehow "win"? Am I such an overachiever that I can't be in the same room with a test without wanting to ace it? Am I putting to much of myself into this "number" that we will get back from the testing service?

I have to tell you: I have bought two test-prep workbooks for Benny and he's been doing them. I don't understand why I'm doing this -- it truly makes no difference if he scores a 35 or a 95. It is all the same, and no one ever needs to know these scores except me, my husband, and the person who's making a checkmark next to Benny's name on a list of kids who are "approved."

But I'll know. When I was a kid, I was a good test-taker. I was a National Merit Scholar. I was a good little brick in the red schoolhouse -- born to sit in class and write down points and regurgitate in bubble sheets. Benny is not that child. he is an independent thinker, a creative powerhouse, a rocketship. Am I incapable of just letting him take the test however he pleases, and not oppressing him with all this practice? It's so ingrained in me that anything less than perfect on anything that looks like a test is an outright failure. Why do I have to inflict that on my child?

I blame the test. And I don't know what to do about it.


  1. Hi, sorry to hear about the testing quandary. We are fortunate that Michigan doesn't require testing...but your reaction feels *so* familiar ...! I can't say I wouldn't be sharing the reaction you're having -- I aced tests easily in school, too. ;)

    While I can understand your irritation at the low bar, I do have to say that I think it's fair. So many people pull their kids out of the government schools because the schools have failed them so badly -- what an ugly irony if we home school families were held to a higher standard than the government schools themselves could manage. ;)

    I hope you can find peace with this little bureaucratic rubber stamp session.

  2. Anonymous10:51 PM

    can you have an evaluator come out instead of doing a test each year? Like you I was avoiding the end of year test because of how pointless it is. I found out through another homeschool parent that students can be evaluated instead of tested. This was not something the state came right out and gave me as an option. Last year we were able to go online and find a very homeschool friendly evaluator who came out to our house for about 45 minutes and talked to me and my son about what we had worked on that year. She looked at a few work samples and sent a paper in to the school district. No test and all for a value of 50 dollars!