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When the test results are right – but wrong

Submitted by on Monday, 1 August 2011 No Comment

I’ll say this about our first adventure in standardized testing land: Big Guy’s results from the spring exam dovetailed perfectly with his performance in the classroom. I’m just not sure that either indicator is accurate.

In fact I know neither is, unless it really is possible for Big Guy to excel at multiplication but to not know how to add and subtract.

Unless  a kid whose reading comprehension is at the fourth grade level can’t identify the plot of what’s he’s read.

Unless it’s reasonable to expect that he could miss not a single question on “writing strategies” but tank “writing conventions.” Sure, it’s possible – the first category involves picking the sentence that completes a passage, while the latter deals with identifying parts of the sentence. But it’s just not likely.

Not unless the kid is Big Guy. In this case, the results mirror the words he heard during our final parent-teacher conference last spring. “It’s going to be your choice one of these days,” his teacher told us. “You’re smart. You have to decide whether to use that brain.”

At age 7 – now 8 – Big Guy simply isn’t capable of seeing that. He can add and subtract – he does it in his head with amazing speed. But when it comes to identifying which number is in the 10s digit – that material’s covered in the portion of the math test he phoned in – he doesn’t care because he doesn’t see it as important. He doesn’t see it as a challenge, so he doesn’t try. That infuriates me.

He’s also prone to rush to get to the next thing and will blurt out the first answer that comes to mind so he can move on. That, too, is an issue his teacher noted, both at the conference and on his final report card.

Will any of this matter 20 years from now? No, but I’m concerned that it will matter right now. He’s changing schools this year, and all they know about him are his grades and his test results. Results that say he’s “below basic” in math- results so improbable that  that I wonder if he even looked at the questions. Results that would tempt me to put him in remediation if the test results were all I knew about him.

Except I know more about him than that single paper, and I know that Big Guy loves to learn. He spent a summer fascinated by natural wonders, science experiments, baseball stats and museums. He simply has no desire to play the bubble game.

He’s not the only one.

“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.”

The speaker? Matt Damon, addressing a teacher’s rally last weekend in Washington. Damon appears to be doing all right for himself, both as a professional and as a human being, despite an attitude that I’m sure the corporate reformers would deplore.

Not that Big Guy’s necessarily another Matt Damon. But a lot of what Damon said applies to him.

Would Big Guy still be glibly – or, perhaps, stubbornly – ignoring things in school that he doesn’t think are important even absent yearly standardized testing? More than likely. But it’s even more likely that it wouldn’t “matter” nearly as much.

Any teacher will be able to see within days in the classroom that Big Guy’s test results are not a reflection of his capabilities. I worry, though, that an incorrect placement early on based on those results will only further douse the flame he used to feel about school and learning.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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