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Friday, March 9, 2012

ISATS and Other Standardized Tests

It's my annual gripe about the ISATS and other standardized tests. I have voiced it before but now that my kids are a year older, I have new aggravations about standardized tests. In my very professional and adult opinion, I think they are dumb. I am not saying that there aren't kids out there that test high and perform well in advanced classes or kids that bomb the tests and then struggle in class. I am just saying while I was teaching and now with my own kids, I have formed this opinion.

What is it that we are trying to accomplish from the results of these tests? I was always told it was a test for the schools (which is why I understand why teachers worry about how their classes will do). I used to get frustrated with that because I loved teaching the kids that were struggling. I never had the "gifted" kids and was fine with that. I thought some of my high average kids were "gifted" but weren't that great of test takers to be honest with you. I knew how to challenge those that needed it but my principal knew I liked the challenge of reaching the kids that had a harder time so he gave me the classes full of the kids that struggled to perform at grade level. So, you can imagine what my kids' test scores showed. Did that mean I was a bad teacher? Did it mean I wasn't teaching the standards? If the kids would have taken a test at the beginning of the year and then again at the end of the year, they would have seen a better picture of the students and my teaching. I still stand by that standardized testing doesn't allow for the kids' individual developmental levels because at second grade, I was still teaching some kids to read. Anyway, now they are used for placement in classes or programs. Not the only way but a big part and I don't get it.

From where I sit, with my three kids, it's hard to put any stock in them. I have Nico who is a terrible test taker but gets straight A's (even in math, this year...Yahoo! I hate being right all the time). Nico confuses me because from his 5th grade ISAT test scores, he placed in a high math class. He had a terrible teacher and ended up having a horrible time. I think he used to be a good test taker and somewhere along the line, anxiety kicked in or he realized what might happen due to his scores and now is not the best. This year, because of his test scores, he will be placed in no advanced classes. I wasn't upset by this because I really don't care. Leo and I were both in advanced classes in high school and it really didn't matter in the grand scheme of life. I was in advanced English and I still don't have a book published. I was in advanced Spanish and can get myself to the bathroom in Mexico but that is about it. I'd like him to do well without too much of a struggle. What kind of irked me was that when I asked if his grades would play a part in his placement, I had three teachers tell me in one form or another, "Oh, you don't want him in advanced classes with all the work he'll have to do. He's an athlete and with all the practices and training, he'll be overwhelmed." Now, maybe that was their way of getting out of a conversation that would have ended with, "He just can't hack it in advanced classes," but there is no guarantee that he is going to be an athlete in high school and to say that sounded ridiculous to me. Nico was bummed and asked me why, when he gets straight A's, he didn't place in the higher classes? I told him to ask his teachers. He did and his teachers told him it was because of the test scores which frustrated him and caused him to say, "I hate taking those stupid tests. I get so nervous." They told him the same thing they told us about sports and Nico, who has been on the end of not making a team he wanted to said, "How do they know I'll even make it?" Exactly!
Then I have Tommy and Belle. I've already talked about my frustrations with them and not much has changed. Tommy scored above grade level in Reading and Writing. Those are not his strong subjects at all. He does okay in school but not without struggling at home and complaining and a few tears. Judging by his book summaries (Heaven forbid, we don't use the 22 font size with some fancy bold letters and some underlining that need not be there), I am totally confused by the high score. He is a great creative writer but they don't test that. Math is his thing and he scored at grade level. Belle is the reader and writer of the family. She can whip out a five paragraph paper in no time and doesn't really complain (okay, she might but she complains about everything). She cries nightly about math. "I don't get it" is her mantra. Guess what? She scored above grade level in math. Neither one scored way above grade level. Just right above but I laughed at how neither one of those results were an accurate picture of my kids. Based on those scores, Tommy will be in a higher language arts class and Belle will be in a higher math class and both will be struggling in the actual class. If you ask me, Nico got the better end of the testing deal. At least he won't be struggling.

So I ask all the administrators out there: What would you rather have? Classes where the kids are understanding the material and getting A's or classes where the test scores are high but the kids are struggling to make the grade? Personally, I think it is the latter because they think that if they are testing high, they must be "getting it" but sadly, that is not always the case.


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