Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"Standardized tests and alternatives to testing"

"How do you know that your children are learning?" Standardized tests and alternatives to testing. Notes for a Tailor Made meeting:

Standardized tests:

What are standardized tests?
Though it’s about standardized testing in the public schools it can give us an insight into why public schools utilize achievement tests in the first place. This way we can decide if it’s something we want to include as a part of our home. I don’t feel these tests are important in my home as I only have three ‘students’ and I know what they know because I live with them and love them! Standardized tests might make more sense to a teacher who has 30 students or for a nation with millions of students.

Basic standardized achievement tests like the Stanford Achievement Test, the Iowa, and the California Achievement Test (CAT) cost money and usually have to be administered by a certified teacher or someone with a college degree. If you decide that these tests are needed in your home, here are some web sites where you can read about them or order them: from

Rebecca I. said that you can administer the CAT test through Seton
( You administer it to your child, send it in, and they run it through the "check the dot" machine and send you the results for just $25.00.

A FREE way to see that your children are learning and how they compare to their peers: You can find released (last year’s) TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tests online: You will have to print these out.

Online Practice tests and tutorials for any state’s mandated tests: These may be interactive where the child can take them right at the computer, while online.

Amanda gave information about TIP, Duke University’s Talent Identification Program
When thinking about tests and testing what type of information is test worthy? Is simply knowing the names of certain concepts superior to demonstrating those concepts or being able to use the concept? (I may not know that “she” is called a “pronoun” but I can properly use one!) Is it more important that a child live or demonstrate knowledge of a concept than to answer a question about it on a test?
Is it possible that the facts and details of the tests that you and I took and passed could be stored in our short term memories and forgotten after we take the tests? (It’s actually proven to be the case) If so, was it really learned? What makes details remain in our long term memories? It’s proven that stress actually works against learning and memory. We don’t want our children to freeze up during an exam, later, when the exam “counts,” because of something we did when they were young. I don’t want my children to have negative associations with testing. I want them to have positive experiences with tests so that they will do well! Knowledge should shape the way we live and think. We should be able to bring what we learn into our lives and to live it. If it’s not important enough to become a part of us, make it’s way into our long term memories, it’s not important. If it’s something we are only memorizing for a test is it something that is meaningful?

Alternative Methods:

Homemade Tests: You could make up tests for your children or you could test them verbally. Maybe even in a very informal way: a discussion or an oral quiz. You could make FUN tests if your children need to learn test taking skills so that you can avoid test anxiety. You and your children probably have a different take on various subject matter depending on your family hobbies and interests. If your family hobby is entomology, you might know more details about the chapter on the metamorphosis of the butterfly than the text book actually gives! If your family business is breeding Egyptian Arabians, you might know more than you wanted to know about the reproductive system. You might know about the economical or business side of the story! If you, as the parent/teacher, wanted to make a test, you could probably even come up with better questions than the text books or at least come up with questions that are more relevant. But, if you are LIVING it, you don’t need to be tested on it – it’s a part of your life! (long term memory)

Child Created Tests: How about letting the child create tests for the parent! This will showcase what they know and just creating the test would be a review and give them more familiarity with the subject matter. And this could be fun for both parent and child! It doesn’t have to be written, it can be oral. One day, while folding clothes, Matthan quizzed me on states and capitals, he got a kick out of how I couldn’t remember most of them!

OBSERVATION: You can observe your children as they talk or play and see if they can demonstrate what they have learned – look for evidence that learning has taken place from their play, writing, or their speech and conversation. You live with them, so you know how to determine if they have learned. You can assess them orally in a formal (oral exam) or an informal way (discussion).

Portfolios: “Portfolio Assessment” (there’s an edu-word for you!) You can keep portfolios to document what you have done, and to display things that your children have worked on, and to keep track of their improvements over the year or over the years. Where a test might show you what your child knows at the moment he takes the test, a portfolio will be able to document improvement. You can save a writing sample from the beginning of the year and compare that sample to a writing sample taken at the end of the year and note improvements. Their portfolios can include the tests that we mentioned above, notes on what you know they have learned, and anything else you think will show that learning has taken place – field trip log! It could include poetry that they have written, pictures they have drawn, and photographs of competed projects or experiments. Some states are satisfied with the portfolio method of assessment as are certain colleges. I want to know more about this!

Notebooking and making books: Cindy Rushton’s “Homemade Books! Yes, You Can Be a Writer Too!”
You could make little books or collect family research in a three ring binder to show what was researched and learned. Cindy Rushton actually sells the books that she made and her son sells the books that he made too! Apparently, he was very interested in the Civil War and combined his research and now sells it. I think he even sells a Civil War book for students to use for their Copy Work. More information on making books:

Scrap booking: Photographic Journaling to display what your children have experienced or learned. You could document activities and projects through pictures! Trish shared one of her scrapbooks. What a wonderful way to chronicle activities, field trips, and anything else that your child experienced. When the child gets involved with putting together a scrapbook of things learned or accomplished throughout the year, this will also serve as a review and the child can take pride in what he/she has learned and then created! The sharing of memories helps engage the long term memory. Trish also brought a print out of Cindy Rushton’s “Scrap booking! Catch the Fever! Yes! Homeschooling CAN be FUN!” from “Homeschooling the Easy Way” somewhere in: Trish also shared an interview with Lisa Whelchel: she talks about how homeschooling can be fun and she mentions scrap booking. You can see this interview at

Journal: You could keep a journal of what your children are learning or let them keep a journal; even if it's just personal thoughts. We tend to write about what we have learned ‘after the fact’ because many of the educational moments that we experience were not planned. You could even engage in an interactive journal where every few days you read the student’s journal entries and add some encouraging comments and some questions for them to consider or expound upon.

Web Log BLOG IT!: This could even be in the form of a family web BLOG to document or display activities; to chronicle what is being learned or experienced. Katherine thought that this would be fun for the kids in Creative Writing. They could BLOG their stories, poems, or their journals. I sent these notes to my blog site! Notice the last e mail address up there in the “to” field?

Create a web page: Teach a child some basic HTML and allow them to create a web page showcasing what they have completed or learned! This experience would be an education in itself, as HTML programming is another subject that they might want to explore. You could count the experience as a “technology” credit? Making a web page is as easy as using a word processor, harder than a blog, and easier than Power Point.

Video Journal: You could video-tape a play that they performed in or wrote. (I video taped the kids singing the ‘body part song’ in Latin. I also taped them reciting a fabula in Latin. Really because I knew they wouldn’t remember these things forever, but they sure did look impressive! As we watch this tape, it serves as review and brings back wonderful memories!)

Power Point Presentation: Older children could put together a Power Point presentation of what they have learned! This is a fun program to create lessons or tests. Well, fun if you want to play around with the program, not fun if you are forced to use it. What a wonderful way for your child to display what they have learned; this is a skill in itself! If your child is familiar with Power Point he/she has computer skills that you could count towards a technology or computer credit and might even give them an edge when they get into college. I know that right now as homeschool students graduate from CHEC they have to prepare a Power Point presentation that will be viewed. I know people who are willing to pay someone experienced with PP to help them create the presentation! (Matthan, for Crain 7th grade, had to create a power point presentation, so this is an experience that public and private schools require.)

And finally, of course, you could just know they know because you know they know! You live with them and you eat, sleep, and breathe with them, so you probably were there for most of those "light bulb" moments. You were probably right there when they learned most of what they learned or you learned it with them! You might not need to test them because you know them inside and out! Testing may only be to prove something to other people.

Karen from A2Z: You know they are learning because:
-you've seen learning happening (observation, they’ve demonstrated certain skills)
-you've watched the learning being solidified through life experiences (learning manifested in everyday life)
-you've listened to your children share with you what they've read, watched, listened to, experienced (oral assessment, daily conversation and discussion)
-you see that they are happy and healthy and you don't worry about "what" they might be learning, as healthy and mental well-being have to be present first before any learning can occur (hierarchy of needs)
-You were right there learning with them! (You are living and learning with your children!)

Lyn from A2Z:
I tried to teach my child with books.
He gave me only puzzled looks.
I tried to teach my child with words -
They often passed him by, unheard.
Despairingly I turned aside,
"How shall I teach this child?" I cried.
Into my hand he put the key -
"Come", he said, "and play with me."

Pros and Cons of Testing:

You can see where your child stands in comparison to other children his/her age in the country.
If your child is a great test taker, it can validate what you are doing in the home!
You can use the test results to fill in the gaps or focus on the child’s strengths (bents)
If your state requires testing, you will be in compliance!
You can use the test to keep them on the same level as their public school peers, making entering public school a very smooth transition
Standardized tests are a very conventional method of assessment.
Most people rely on this type of measurement
Public schools will respect this type of evaluation
Higher level institutions will accept these types of assessments
If your child tests really high there are certain programs that he will be eligible for (Amanda knows about this)

Children shouldn’t be compared to other children, and this is the purpose of standardized tests
There are bents or strengths that will not be reflected on a standardized test
Tests only tell you what the child knows right then and there. (Do you remember everything you were tested on?)
Some children freeze up during tests so their score isn’t an indicator of what they actually know.
Some questions are confusing to the child who over analyzes questions (you might have an Einstein or an Edison!)
The tests may not reflect what the child really knows! The child might actually know more than the test asked.
The child might not be developmentally ready for some of the concepts at the time of the test, so the results may not be a true indicator of the child’s future abilities or what he/she is capable of!
Tests are not effective measures of a child’s intelligence, what the child knows, or the child’s skills. (There was a celebrated Scientist who, when given an IQ test, tested way below average! Einstein was kicked out of school because he “couldn’t do his sums” and Edison was kicked out of school and thought of as “stupid” also. You may have a lateral thinker!)
Many experts and researchers oppose early testing and even testing at all
When schools focus on teaching to the test much real and natural learning is lost
The quality of text books are compromised as text book publishers collect and present information to meet the standards of the tests (Why teach about certain fun and exciting concepts if the state’s test isn’t going to ask questions about those concepts? Or for example: if “test scores” determine my salary then it might make more sense to me to teach your children how to take a test and constantly give them answers the questions that might appear on the test. When this happens, the quality of learning is compromised and learning is not meaningful or fun.
If your goal is a life long love of learning then testing isn’t your focus, but learning is!
Testing isn’t learning
Practicing for tests isn’t learning (we know that our schools ‘teach to the test’ and constantly practice taking the TAKS – that’s wasted time!)

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