June 23, 2013

What homeschooling looks like: Standardized Testing Grade 6

Three years ago, Geshtro (then Robotson) had to take his first standardized test.   He did pretty well considering we had never touched a curriculum or even found out what he was supposed to know for the test.

This time around there was barely even a thought about it beforehand.  We both knew it was just a state requirement and the results are for our eyes only.  Besides I really think testing is a waste of time.  I don't think you can get a full understanding of a person's ability and willingness to learn by making them memorize facts for a test.  More important is a person's aptitude for being able to seek out what they don't know.  And in my experience, when you go searching for something you want to know, you are much more likely to learn beyond the initial search and retain that information long term.  I have other issues with testing too.

I don't like time limits, especially for young children.  Geshtro and I paid attention to the time limits only as an interesting side note.  For most of the test, he did finish in the allotted time, but not in the math section.  I expected this.  Math isn't a difficult subject for him, but he needs to talk through the problems.  Talking about them helps him arrange the numbers in his head.  I do the same thing.  I can do math and I enjoy it, but I need the space and time to make the numbers "sit still" so to speak in my head.  Fortunately, as an adult I've never needed to be fast at math and when I would like an answer more quickly, I use a calculator.

Speaking of calculators, I think you should be able to use them.  In fact, I think you should be able to use any means of finding the answers available to you, including talking it through with others.  When I want to know something - I go and look it up.  Then I talk about it with B, the kids, my friends, my parents, or sometimes with others online.  That is real learning, not some memorization of facts to be regurgitated at a later date.

So when Geshtro was taking his test, I didn't make myself scarce.  I hung around.  Sometimes I sat beside him so that he would know we were in this together.  I didn't give him a single answer, but I did what I always do when he has questions, I talked to him and asked open-ended questions to help him find his way.

That's not to say there wasn't any drama.  Testing brings out the worst in us because it's a reminder of how very different we are doing things here.  Some questions were so outdated that I had to explain them before we could attempt an answer (Rolls of film?  Geshtro didn't even know such a thing existed.)  Then there is the complaining at all of the time wasted - by the test and by him procrastinating.  He's also got to be pushed a little harder when he's not inspired (don't we all??) so some questions were extremely simple, but took a long time to get him to stop fighting against them.  Other times I had to bring him back from way over thinking a concept to answer the simplest question.

In the end, it took us six days to finish.  I don't need the results to know how he did though.  This is what I learned from his sixth grade testing:

 - Given the right tools, he can figure anything out with enough time and interest.
 - He knows how to find the right tools on his own about 75% of the time.
 - He knows how to change course when one way of thinking is not working.
 - Sometimes he gets stuck trying to answer irrelevant questions and misses the simple solution.
 - He very much wants to be right the very first time he finds an answer and when he is not, he gets very frustrated.
 - He worries about the way we homeschool.  Testing seems to make our differences stand out very sharply to him.
 - He needs to work on holding a pencil.  (This one made me laugh, but he spends most of his time in front of a computer.  Filling in little bubbles is not a strong skill for him.)

It wasn't all bad either.  Some of the reading passages were interesting to him.  He says he might want to read Pinocchio and has already had a chance to throw out some other random facts he learned.  He found a pretty neat app for adding fractions too, if you are interested.

1 comment:

  1. rolls of film!

    that reminds me of the huge controversy about disadvantaged kids in the city and standardized questions with things they had zero experience with. how can these tests even be standard if they aren’t understandable by all kids?!