Reading my son’s IOWA Skills test scores from 2005 has been a bittersweet process. On one hand, I want to throw a party, and on the other, I want to weep for the nation. The fears by teachers that tests are being watered down, curriculum is being redefined by publishers, and that bell-curves are leaving poor students without resources in the bottom 50% are REALITIES today. Many teachers complain that lucrative test contracts that spend millions of dollars of our tax money could better be used to hire teachers, buy learning resources and improve our schools. Amidst the growing controversy over skills testing across America, I see the basic truth that test scores are completely relative.
With this in mind, I opened my son’s test scores last week. He took the IOWA skills test back in the early part of April along with the rest of the state’s public schooled children. Our scores came in this past week (the last week of August). It took the school district (and the testing company; let’s be fair and blame them both…) almost a total of five months to get the results to us. If you are adding that up, it comes up to almost half of a year! Not only were they late in arrival, but there had been a mix-up and all of the homeschooled students in our state had been given scores that were incomplete because the testing facility had forgotten to add in the scores for Social Studies and Science the first time they were sent out. I hadn’t received the “first set” of scores in that particular mail-out. They had gotten my address wrong and there’s no telling where they sent my son’s first set of test scores. I called to give them my address AGAIN when I found out from other homeschoolers that the publisher was sending out new scores. Whomever I spoke with at their office managed to leave off my apartment number, so I was relieved to finally get the scores this past week (someone in my apartment office had to hand-deliver it to my mailbox). At least THIS time the test made it to its proper destination.
The actual testing took three days out of our school year in April. Seeing as how my school year is not on a regular school year calendar, this made for a very inconvenient testing date. We started our school in September of last year, took over a month off in October and part of November because of our moving, and didn’t finish school until the end of July 2006. We had about four weeks here and there of off-time in-between, but we were only in our early part of our second semester when the testing occurred. My son was not even finished with his materials for the year. I feared that he would be at a disadvantage because of this. I was glad to find out that he scored well, as you can imagine… yet I feel that if state governments require mandated testing of homeschoolers, they should take into consideration the fact that most homeschoolers are NOT following a strict “public school calendar”. Testing should be done when ALL students are finished with the curriculum they have been assigned for each year.
Knowing that we wasted three days in April on this test, I am also aware that this can not compare with the months and months which I am certain were stolen from our local public school students and teachers who were forced to “teach for the test”. Their schools are “graded” by their test results and money is dangled like carrots hung on a stick in front of school districts who are able to score the highest. In my view, this only sets a rigged trap that pays off with federal money. Consistently, the most affluent schools are taking the top funds and the poorer communities are punished. Awarding money to teachers and faculty in districts who score well is a blow to the teachers and faculty in poor scoring schools when in all actuality, they may have worked just as hard.
My son did not stop during the year to study for the test and did not practice with testing materials before hand. How do you suppose his scores were in the top two percent of the nation’s third grade class if this is true? Why is it that the public school students who were drilled and filled with test facts all through the school year by their teachers (who are similarly drilled and filled with test procedure) scored on average between 10-40% lower than my son on individual subjects? This suggests that public school test procedures are NOT what they are cracked up to be.
I am no expert on test score readings, but my son’s scores were in the high 90% National Percentile Rank across the board (with the exception of just a few individual items). His “Core Total” score was 99%, and his Composite (which I assume to mean the entire test including Core and Social Studies, Science, Maps and Reference) was 98%. Information on understanding the scores on his test results were not provided adequately. Of course, as any mother and teacher would be, I am thrilled that his scores were so high. However, it makes me scratch my head in wonder that he could score so high on a test that was designed for the scope and sequence of the public school’s version of 3rd Grade… and I am NOT teaching to that scope or sequence at ALL.
The scope is the information which is covered, and the sequence is the order in which it is taught. I am teaching a larger scope than the public school, but a completely different sequence. Here’s a snip from my curriculum side-manual, “The KONOS Compass” that speaks to this issue:
“You will see that within three volumes (K-8th Grade), KONOS covers what is normally taught. In other words, the scope is the same (although KONOS covers more), while the sequence may be different. The sequence or order in which certain subjects are taught is very arbitrary. Except for subjects (like math and language) which build upon previously learned skills, there is no necessary order for learning topics. For example, what does it matter if the topic of birds is learned before or after the topic of beavers? In fact, even within the state requirements, there is a diversity about when to teach the topics.”
So, in essence, my son was able to score in the top two percent of American 3rd Graders (who took the Iowa) even though some of the material on the test may not have been taught at all to him at home. Not only that, but I was only a little more than 1/2 way finished with his 3rd Grade Math book (since we did school until July 31st). To me, this is a scary actuality… and leads me to believe that either I am a lot better teacher (without a teaching degree) than I had previously thought, or the public schools are dumbing down students and tests by teaching them for the test instead of teaching them for life.
Am I proud of my son? You bet I am. He’s in the top two percent of American Third Graders today (according to the Iowa Skills Test). But while I am proud of my son, I also feel a little sorry for all the parents out there whose kids are forced to waste so much time on these tests. I’m sorry for the teachers as well. Most of us who have a heart for teaching really do love our students and do it because we WANT the kids to excel. Given BACK the months of test prep and millions in test prep funding, those same teachers and students could be really experiencing the joy of teaching and learning like we are. Instead, they will go on cramming information so they can crank out tests and then forget it all the minute they turn in their test booklets. What a sad system we have created to evaluate the beautiful process of learning. How uniform and bland shall be the students our current system turns out. There will be no celebration of talent. All of those students will be test-taking machines, void of any real excitement and enthusiasm about the “facts” they have learned all year. Learning is as natural as breathing, walking, and talking… but we have turned it into something that isn’t natural at all. We have “institutionalized” it. Shame on us!
Other Quick Links:
The Trouble With the Test (11/01) by David Bacon
Testing Trap (Sept/Oct 2002 – Harvard Magazine) by Richard F. Elmore
Education vs. Regurgitation (1997 – Homeschool World) by Jessica Hulcy
Standardized Testing Humor (April 2006) – by Sprittibee
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