Sunday, August 10, 2008

Good news for my homeschoolers

I got the STAR test results for my children today. Interestingly, they are both advanced in verbal skills, and proficient in math. Both read three levels beyond their grade.

It's not as if their numbers are off the charts or anything. Probably lots of kids we know scored higher. And I know that the main skill these tests measure is the skill of test-taking itself. I'm under no illusions that I'm nurturing a pair of geniuses-to-be. I'm happy all the same, though, because we accomplished these scores with a lot of good intentions, but maybe not all that much actual effort.

It's probably not true that if we tried harder they would score better. As I said, we certainly intended to do more than we did, and I think the law of diminishing returns would start to kick in sooner rather than later.

Ziad's writing test is probably a good example. The test was administered in a community room at the Santa Clara City library, and proctored by a teacher who he has known for a few years now. Despite the fact that he was sitting next to a boy who is practically his best friend, he was out of there in about fifteen minutes, a period during which many kids (including his friend) were still reading the instructions. The fact that he scored a 50% on that test is actually kind of impressive, under the circumstances. And the fact that he stilled scored in the advanced level for verbal skills, with that 50% pulling his average down is even more impressive. I don't think he would have scored over 75% under any circumstances, though, no matter how long he sat at that desk. He just isn't motivated to write well unless he really cares about what he has to say.

Some people homeschool with the idea that their children will be stretching themselves intellectually and working beyond the level they would in school. I certainly like this idea, but am also OK with its converse. My children stay at their grade level with an amount of work perhaps comparable to what a typical schoolchild brings home as homework, and have lots of freedom to follow their interests. Or just hang around.

I've seen a wide variety of feelings about standardized testing among homeschoolers. Some people hate it vehemently, and even there I see a variety of reasons. Some reject the entire concept of testing. Some feel their children won't do well and their self-esteem will suffer as a result. (I have to admit, this last seems silly to me -- isn't that giving the whole concept of testing way too much weight? Especially since there's no rule that you have to show your kid the results.) Some people just feel it's a waste of time. "Why should I lose two perfectly good days when I could actually be teaching them something?" is the question these parents raise.

Myself, I feel that standardized testing is one of the hoops society expects people to jump through, so you might as well get used to it. It may be that things are changing in this regard. I know that many colleges no longer require the SAT, but I think most grad schools still want to see GRE scores. Law schools have the LSAT. So it will probably be a while before test-taking of this sort is a thing of the past.

I'm glad that these test results reinforce my kids' impression that the testing is fun. The test days are happy times for them, when they get to see a lot of kids they don't see all that often. A reunion of sorts. The actual test, for them, is more of a formality that intervenes between playing during breaks and lunch.

In the end, I'm happy because our results tell us we can beat the State of California at its own game. We can measure ourselves with its yardstick and hold our heads up high.

Take that, NEA.



Blogger zelda said...

Well, no matter how you feel about testing I'm sure its nice to see those scores.

I'm one that goes out of my way to avoid the test (by not joining a charter school). For one thing, it wouldn't be relevant to my kids because I don't bother to find out what state standards are so I may or may not be covering that.

I know that I disagree with the current ideas in school about the nature of writing and how important it is. I tend to place less importance on it in the grammar school years with no importance attached to creative writing at all.

I administer tests and quizzes periodically here. I know that won't necessarily prepare one for the LSATs or MCATs but I started prepping for the LSATs 3 years before I was set to take them even after 13 years of public school standardized testing so that should give some idea of how prepared I felt. Not very.

11:28 AM  

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