Thursday, February 11, 2010

Homeschooling & Standardized Tests

I've been homeschooling (formally) for 5 years. I've grown a pretty thick skin about most of the incredulous "harrumphing" that most folks send my way about our decision to keep the kids home and educate them (notice I did not say "school them") ourselves. I don't think most people realize how insulting it is to a homeschooler to say, "Oh, I couldn't do THAT!" while in a discussion about homeschooling. I try not to take it personally when I get the "I don't want my kids to be disadvantaged because I couldn't give them everything that schools can!" It does take a monumental effort not to roll my eyes when the "S word" comes up. (Do those people actually know what socialization means?) But the one question that sends me over the edge, with heart racing and teeth bared, ready for a fight to the intellectual death, is the testing question.

"Well, don't they require homeschoolers to pass some kind of requirements? Don't they have to be, like, tested?"

Ooh, blood boiling just typing it out!

Let's get a few little idears straight in our pointy little heads, mmkay punkin?

Part I

1. Standardized testing is a load of horse manure, and any educator (that would be a university-trained and state-certified teacher, not a politician nor an administrator) worth her salt will tell you that. Standardized testing doesn't measure what a child knows. Let me repeat that, and I'll even put it centered and in boldface so that we can be crystal on this point:

Standardized testing doesn't measure what a child knows.

It only measures how well a student has absorbed and regurgitated a finite amount of narrow information stuffed into his noggin. Knowledge infers that a student has gained mastery of a body of ideas and concepts. Knowledge is demonstrated when a person can discuss intelligently, or demonstrate via physical method, a theory or event or historical trend or what-have-you. What a standardized test measures is (notice my subtle irony in format, here)
a. how well a student "tests"
b. memorization of a limited number of facts
c. whether or not said student can sit still for an extended period of time without becoming mind-numbingly bored
d. how effective his teacher was in stuffing his head full of trivia
e. all of the above

2. Standardized tests are time-wasters in the classroom.
And that's because...

3. Standardized tests strip classroom teachers of professional dignity.
As a society, we send young people to universities and put them through the mind-numbing hell that comprise modern Methods classes. We expose them to a multitude of educational philosophies, beat them with educational psychology, flog them with pedagogical nonsense about evaluation methods and the benefits of group work versus independent work, chasten them with Horace Mann and John Dewey, barrage their brains with theories about learning styles and gender differences in the classroom and the effect of economic class on reading proficiency, and spit them out the other side as certified teachers. (And, in my state, laughably, force them to pass a standardized test for licensure after spending 4+ years extolling the evils of said tests!)

After all that "schooling," we don't even trust them to teach our children. We constantly look over their shoulders via standardized tests to see what they're doing. Via the testing medium, we tell them what to teach and when, and how! Right now, you're probably shuddering in horror, thinking that I'm advocating some kind of educational free-for-all, where crazy liberal teachers get free rein to teach about the history of Scotch tape in literature class, but stick with me for a sec.

Standardized tests tell teachers what to teach, and when to teach it, and what facts are most important. Do we really need a professional for such drivel? Really?!

Think about it - a young teacher graduates from university, gets her first job, and has all these wonderful ideas bouncing around in her head about the fantastic world that she can open to the students in her class. There is a feast of knowledge out there - a FEAST! - but her job hinges on the performance of her students on a standardized test. Out goes the fire, in comes the rote memorization of dry facts, facts that will let Ms. I Just Graduated With Student Loan Debt and Need To Pay The Rent and Feed My Cat keep her job, if only the children will fill in the right bubbles on the Scantron form.

Have you gotten the point, yet? Those tests aren't about what children KNOW. They're about SCHOOL FUNDING. They're about MONEY, not knowledge or - saints preserve us! - EDUCATION! They're about $$$$! (No Child Left Behind - schools lose their funding if they don't perform. Sound like a good idea? School is failing, so let's give them even LESS money to fix the problem! Can't buy the testing prep materials or pay for professional development for your teachers? Take THAT! Muhahaha! We showed you! Now you can't even update the textbooks! So there! Teach those kids NOW! Hahaha! Twirl mustache evilly, exit stage left!)

Part II

Exempting homeschoolers from standardized testing is a no-brainer. The reason I homeschool (okay, one of the twenty reasons I homeschool) is to enjoy the freedom of chasing rabbit-trails. If the boys are interested in the Civil War, we dive in. Right now, we're on a solar system kick. We're talking about planets and comets and orbits and light years, and it's lighting a fire under them to learn MORE. There is no pressure to "finish the book" by the end of the year. I don't need some educrat telling me that fourth grade is for state history, and the Civil War will be covered again in eighth grade. Strike while the iron is hot, that's what I say. I am the parent, and I have a vested interest in helping my children succeed - and that is best served by teaching them how to get to the information they want and getting out of their gosh darn way! They can learn loads better when I'm not acting as the gatekeeper of information, doling out morsels as it's convenient for me. My job is to point to the feast and help them find a fork.

So, yeah, there's that other question you're going to ask me, right? The one about those parents who took their kids out of school just to hide them from CPS, or the couple that are too scatterbrained to pull together any kind of education for their children. And you know what? That's part of living in a free society. I am not volunteering my children to be punished for the mistakes (or willful negligence) of someone else. If we follow that line of reasoning that tells us that we have to check up on everyone so that no child falls between the cracks, then is it really that far of a stretch to say that we should all submit to DNA testing for the police to keep on file, in case anyone commits a crime? Or that we should just get rid of that pesky little idea of a search warrant - after all, why would any innocent person have anything to hide, right? So let's just test ALL the homeschoolers, because we need to "make sure," y'know, that they're "learning."

I am the parent of these children. It is my God-given duty to educate them. Again, I have a vested interest. My children are mine, not the government's, to raise. With my values - and that includes educational theories and religious beliefs and thoughts about the solar system and the Civil War.

Lastly, there is this thought:
Q: what happens to school children who fail standardized tests?
A: They go right back for MORE schooling! Duh!

Does that strike anyone else as mind-numbingly, well, stupid? The school failed to "teach" the student, so the student goes back for MORE? (What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.) So, in the thought process of the person asking me the "don't your kids have to be tested?" question, if my children failed a standardized test, why would I send them to a traditional school? Shouldn't I just lose some of my government funding (oh, wait, I don't get any) and then continue on as usual?

Makes sense to me.


Laurie said...

I totally agree! I am an educationla diagnostician and I see exactly what you are talking about EVERY day. Don't forget the administrators that are under pressure to get great scores so their school can get more recognition. It drives them insane and usually makes them rude to people-parents, teachers and other professionals. That said, my girls attend an awesome school. The school loves the kids first and formost. It's a place where they learn more than just what's in the books. The school motto is "where weird works".I realize that their school is rare diamond but am really thankful they have both had the opportunity to go there.I believ whether or not to homeschool is a family decision and it's not my place to judge what someone does or does not do. Doing what's right for the family is what matters.

Monica said...

I love this post!!! Thanks for organizing all "my" thoughts on Standard Testing for me Loni! I am going to "steal" this post and put it in the "Reason's I Homeschool" section of my Home Management Binder. Hope you don't mind :)

Loni said...

Steal away, Monica! : )

Lynn said...

Nicely written. I'm terribly impressed you were able to use the word "pedagogical" in there. Miss Gillie would be proud. *sniff*