Abstract: In this post, I will complain about stupid, standardized tests and then I will say why my kids take stupid, standardized tests anyway. Be sure to read the article I refer to in the conclusion. It's a gem.
Today's Standardized Tests Don't Have Standard Results
A standardized test is supposed to have standard results. This means that if a child takes a test year after year, there should not be a large jump in scores between one year and the next. Significant influences like a year of one on one math tutoring or a serious head cold on the day of the test may cause scores to go drastically up or down, but otherwise a child who is performing consistently at school will not see significant score changes.
That isn't the case with the current version of our state's standardized test, aligned to national common core standards. My son has taken the test for three years and his scores have been all over the place. He scored highest on the writing portion the year he basically retyped the prompt than the next year when he typed an original response. He scored better on the math section when we were half a year behind in an "un-common core" math curriculum we were using than when he was in public school working on a common core curriculum math up to 90 minutes a day (not including the 30 minutes of math homework he was doing a night). Did I mention that our "un-common core" curriculum only took us an average of 20-30 minutes to complete? (Read some of my thoughts on Singapore Math)
Knowledge and Academic Competency Cannot Be Reduced to a Test Score
Anyone who knows a kid, a real kid with humor and curiosity and passion, knows that test scores are bunk. Let's move on now.
Standardized Tests Stink, But Here's Why My Kids Take Them Anyway
At this point, I should probably mention that we homeschool through a charter school, so if I want to opt out of standardized testing, I have to go through a process and make a big stink. If I absolutely believed that that there was nothing good at all about state testing, I would go through the process an make the big stink. But I don't and here's why:
I don't know about all states, but in California it doesn't matter if you want to be a lawyer or a barber, there is a standardized test between you and that goal. In my job history career, I've taken tests to be a lifeguard, tests on food safety so I could scoop ice cream, a single subject exam in language and literature to qualify for a single subject teaching credential, a test to prove I had competencies in basic skills like averaging test scores and writing a letter--also to be a teacher, yearly tests in CPR and first aid so I could coach sports, and I passed a test to get an insurance license to help my husband out in a new business start up. And every test that I took, with the exception of the life guarding and CPR exams, seemed to be really odd in the ways they measured competency. (The life guarding and CPR exams were the most common sense tests that I have ever taken. Kudos to the Red Cross for having sensible tests for skills that mean a difference between life and death!)
Since the world isn't spiraling towards a more common sense approach to testing, it's safe to assume that tests will continue to be weird measures of competency. Therefore as a part of my kids "hands on education," I want them to have a real, genuine, bona fide, surreal experience of taking a standardized test when it doesn't really matter, because someday, when they get take the test to get the licence for whatever career they want, they won't be set off kilter by the ridiculousness of what they are doing so that they can get the job that matters to them.
I would like to redirect you to an article by poet Sara Holbrook who wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled I can't answer these Texas standardized test questions about my own poems. It's awesome.
PS: In Case You're Wondering...
I don't do much to prepare my son for standardized testing except teach him a well rounded curriculum full of big ideas and good and useful knowledge. I do use testing as an excuse to make my son practice typing which is a skill he is loath to practice, despite the obvious benefits to a dysgraphic. He does remember how hard it is to hunt and peck through the writing section of a test so he does make the effort to apply himself to his typing practice in the weeks before testing.
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After a couple of weeks of everyone being sick, it was good to have a normal, healthy week. I wouldn't believe that we were almost done with the year if we weren't so ready for summer to come.
After Spring Break, I like to change up what our homeschool days look like. We ease back on learning new math material and focus on short reviews of trouble areas from the year. I drop our formal writing program and and allow for more creative writing and journal writing. If I'm thinking of doing any changes to next year's school week, we practice them between spring break and summer.
This year, most of my post spring break changes have to do with practicing new skills and subjects. My daughter turned six last month, so next year I want add narrations a couple times a week to her daily lessons. This means I am asking her to practice narrating what she read a couple times a week now. Next year, my son will be in 7th grade and will have to do his science lessons more independently, since he is outgrowing our family lessons. I am having him do some science readings independently to get used to doing science on his own.
This week I wrote about how to homeschool when you can't really talk, because I have some firsthand experience in that area. (I had a triple whammy cold-allergy-sinus infection that left me speechless!) I also wrote a few reviews on books that I read last month. If you're a reader, you may want to check it out. Three months ago I wrote about why we keep nature notebooks. My kids now call every bird they see a pelican just to get my goat, but their bird identification skills have greatly increased since the great pelican incident by the river.
This week's Finally Friday header photo was taken in California's Gold Country, outside of Plymouth, California. Normally, the hills have turned gold by this time of year, but they are still green because we have been so blessed with a rainy spring after a season of drought.
I'm working on reading a book a week for this year and last month, I only read three, so I came up a bit short. Thankfully, summer is around the corner and summer is for catching up on book goals.
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The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
I started The Great Divorce because I didn't have anything on hand to read one evening and it was a part of a CS Lewis collection that I owned. Since I hadn't heard much about The Great Divorce, I didn't really know what to expect. Boy was I floored, because it was a fascinating book about heaven and hell and the choices that we make that lead us to one final destination or the other. If you've ever heard the reference to CS Lewis stating that souls that go to hell, choose to go there...this is the book it was probably from.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
I first read The Hobbit over 20 years ago because a friend recommended it and I had been meaning to pick it up again for quite a while because the plot of the movies seemed a bit disjointed in certain parts. Oh, eagles just happened to come along and save our heroes from the trolls. Since, I didn't remember events happening quite so randomly in the book, so I went back to read it and everything in the movies made much more sense. Not to mention that the Hobbit is a delightful read and I have a greater appreciation for the symbolism, wisdom, and humor more now than I remember having 20 years ago. I will be reading the Lord of the Rings series next. Even though I didn't appreciate LOTR as well as many people do on my first read through, I think it's the kind of book that gets better with a reread .
I think I may encourage my oldest son to read The Hobbit this summer in exchange for letting him watch the movie version on his own some lazy week this summer..
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
I have only been recently introduced to Wendell Berry's work. So far I've read some of his essays and poetry. I've also read Nathan Coulter, Remembering, and Hannah Coulter. This month I read Jayber Crow, and so far Jayber Crow has been my favorite of Berry's novels. Wendell Berry writes poignantly about the transition from traditional lifestyles to modern lifestyles. His heroes and heroines learn the hard way that progress really isn't all that it's cracked up to be and they have to fight back against modernity to find that balance of life where they can be truly human.
I appreciated the medieval references in Jayber Crow: his life's journey was compared to Dante's Divine Comedy and he had a love for a married woman that was pure and chaste, much like the courtly love of knights for the queens, princesses, and ladies they served.
What books have you read recently? Do you have any book recommendations for me for next month?
May has been rough on my vocal chords. April left me with a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection and a windy first few days of May ensure that I am also being blasted with pollen every time I step outside. In the morning, I cannot talk above a whisper. Once my voice warms up, I cannot talk without coughing. It is hard to talk, therefore it is hard to homeschool, but somehow, homeschooling is still happening. Here's how:
Audibooks Save Read Aloud Time
I usually read aloud at least an hour a day. I read the Bible, a history lesson, and a literature selection to everyone. I read picture books to my four and six year olds in the morning. I read bedtime stories. I read math lessons and science lessons when I need to.
When I can't read, there is a huge void in our homeschool day. My oldest, who is twelve can pick up a little of the slack, but not all of it. Luckily, at the beginning of my cold, I picked up the first audiobook of the How to Train Your Dragon series. We had not listened to an audiobook as a family yet, so I wasn't sure how it would be received, well let me tell you it was a resounding success! Everyone in our family from age four to almost forty loves this series. The narrator, David Tennant is a former Shakespearean actor but you probably know him from the TV series Dr. Who. I think it is his Shakespeare experience that really makes this audiobook series shine, because his range of character voices is excellent.
Speaking of Shakespeare, I planned on starting to read Julius Caesar with my son in May, but it's hard to teach Shakespeare with any grace if you are whispering and coughing the whole way through. Luckily, my library carries audiobooks on it's e-site so I was able to check out this all-star version of Julius Caesar. How could I have homeschooled while sick ten years ago?
If it weren't for the library, I may have cashed in on Amazon'sfree two audiobooks offer...
The Internet Saves Math Time
Luckily, it's May so I don't really feel pressured to teach too many new math concepts, but it is still important to practice math. Xtramath and the math games onABCya gave my kids a chance to drill math facts and play with the math concepts that they have learned in a fun and entertaining way. No one complains when I assign reinforcement math games on ABCya instead of starting a new lesson.
Documentaries Save History and Science
I had the kids read or look at science and history book and picture books during the day, but most of their instructional time happened via screens. We watched Born in China on day while I was recovering and I called it a school day after having the kids narrate a few things that they learned. (But did the snow leopard have to be the one animal that died? My cat-loving daughter was heartbroken!) A library DVD rounded out our history for the week. Since we just finished reading about Hercules in D'Aulaires Greek Myths, I put on the Disney version for fun on day when it was 98 degrees outside. ("That was really different than the story you read mom." "Yes, I know.")
Art and PE Take Care of Themselves
On my sick days I can pull out the art supplies and later send the kids outside and art and PE take care of themselves.
And that is how I homeschool when I can barely talk. How do you homeschool when you can't talk?