Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fun With Standardized Testing

I learned a long time ago not to be surprised by the things my kids find interesting (that time on that car trip to Yorkshire where they begged me to write out times tables for them to fill in springs to mind), but this week takes the cake. I never thought I'd hear "These test things are fun. Can we get some more of them to do?" My own memories of the SAT testing I went through in school was a mixture of terror, boredom, and agony. But my kids think the SATs are fun.

I should back up and explain. It's not like I got these crazy SAT practice books because I wanted to. But the state I live in mandates that all kids get tested in their 3rd grade year, and we don't have an option for portfolios, observation, or any of the other possibilities that other states offer. So, my oldest will have to be tested next month, no way around it. I wanted him to have the option to try some practice tests first, so he'd at least know how to fill in little bubbles with No. 2 pencils (you know, another one of those valuable life skills that you use so much once you're done with school). He said he'd like to see a practice test or two, to become familiar with the format, so I bought some. And the kids love them.

It's funny. When you take something, even something as dreadful as testing, and you remove the expectations, the grading, the pressure, the concern, the caring about how you score, and all of the attendant angst that goes along with those things, they are, apparently, fun. Last night, my kids begged to do more and more pages, long after I had grown weary of checking the answer sheets. My "kindergarten-aged child" (put in quotes because really, these distinctions are so meaningless to all but the state beauracracy) even did the 3rd grade test, with her brother looking over her shoulder and coaching her on which answers the test-makers put in to trick her. They had some good laughs together over the alternative answers and spent some time thinking up their own for several of the questions.

So now my few concerns about my kids and test taking have been laid to rest (these concerns consisted of them being able to just follow the format of a test, not having a lifetime of test-taking to practice with, and tracking the bubbles correctly so as not to fill out an entire row of accidentally wrong answers), but more than anything I've learned another lesson along the unschooling path. As I released all of the anxiety that came churning up from my distant schooling past when I looked at those bubble sheets and No. 2 pencils, I could see these tests for what they are to my kids: a bit of a fun brain teaser, an opportunity to learn some new things (what a long division symbol looks like, what does the word antonym mean), and a fun diversion on a rainy day. Nothing more and nothing less. All else is the world of expectations that are normally tied to those little bubbles. Without that, they're just one more fun thing in a vast sea of living and learning. On to tomorrow's adventures.

1 comment:

Toni said...

I absolutely know what you are talking about! Testing is similar here, and Kaleb has taken the abbreviated SAT twice now. This will be Bethany's first year. Kaleb has told me how fun it is. LOL. I hope Bethany finds it just as much of a fun diversion :-).