Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Are They Measuring?

I have been thinking a lot about standardized testing this year-- where I think it falls in terms of usefulness, whether it is something we ought to participate in, etc. I have also felt the allure of the possibility of 'knowing' whether we are 'doing it right' in terms of educating the children. I don't like wondering about stuff like that. I do like being able to easily quantify value and progress.

In the midst of this wondering (and waffling back and forth between 'just get the testing' and 'what is it measuring, anyway?') I have also pondered the fact that the Texas education authorities are directly responsible for inserting inane questions about the color of Willie Nelson's bandanna into defensive driving courses, thereby effectively distracting folks like me, who were seriously attempting to absorb the material before realizing that they expect us to focus on clothing at least as much as driving principles.

Anyway, I have looked at the TAKS tests more than once this year, and actually had my older two girls take the math and reading tests for their grade level (they did exactly as well as I expected them to). Triss' grade level also has history and science tests, and I have wondered whether to even bother with those. When I looked at the history test, it was chock full of in-depth factual questions on American history and government. Triss is currently at the period of the Mayflower in her second trek through history, the first having been an overview taking six years. In the past two years, she has gone through the fall of Rome, the Dark and Middle Ages and the Renaissance and Reformation. We are going in depth into the American Revolution and American government next year.

She has learned a lot about the foundations of American government in the past two years, by which I mean she has learned about English Common Law, the struggle between 'might is right' and 'right is right', the amazing questions concerning the divine right of kings and the rights of individuals to liberty and property, the struggles between a state that enforces worship practices and individuals who desire to follow the dictates of conscience. She has read Sir Thomas More's Utopia, and can now recognize expressions of the desire for a perfect society.

I don't know how much of that has 'stuck' and how much she has simply had her 'historic atmosphere warmed'. But I feel like the past two years have been extremely worth it. She has a sense of history she wouldn't have gotten from simply memorizing the date of the Magna Charta and Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church.

At the same time, I feel dates and facts are important. But they are of less importance than having a sense of where we come from. I would really like to learn how to emphasize these more fact-oriented aspects of history without taking away from the enlarging sense of connection between other eras and our own. How to do that?

Anyway, back to the standardized tests. There is no point to me giving Triss the 8th grade TAKS history test, because she hasn't gone that in-depth into American history and government yet.

Or has she?

The test measures a knowledge of dates and document titles, but perhaps does not measure in-depth knowledge necessary to a broad understanding of American history and government. This is the quandary in which I often find myself while thinking of standardized testing. What are they measuring? Is it really important? Is it *as* important as what we are studying? And how are these tests going to help me in my decision-making processes?

Perhaps they are valuable simply as a way of knowing that if something happened to prevent us homeschooling, the kids would be able to take a place with their age-mates in the public schools. At this point, I wonder if they would have a Sissy Jupe experience, were they to set foot in school, knowing all about the essence of a horse (or a nation, in our case), but little about its scientific classification.** Is that kind of thinking profitable, or is it a waste of energy, trying to have a foot in both camps? We do need to remember dates as well as understand ideas, but how much effort should be expended in drilling dates that don't stick when reading narratives? And which dates are equivalent to Willie Nelson's bandanna and can safely be ignored, except when studying for *required* standardized tests? (Not that any testing is required in Texas. It isn't at this point. But I am thinking of college entrance exams, too.)

I am no closer to understanding or reaching conclusions than when I started. But at least you, my twelve readers, now know that these thoughts continue to revolve in my mind.

*This post was inspired by a quote posted by Lindafay, as well as the following books:

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Poetic Knowledge (only the first three chapters) by James S. Taylor
various parts of the CM volumes

**(Don't worry, Dad, we have been studying dates, too. I am just not seeing those "stick" the way I think they should. Yes, I realize I am a perfectionist. Love you. Thanks for watching my back. ;o)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always found dates and names of documents people, doctrines, etc. to be important as a sort of sorting tool. By assoicating a date with some document, person or event it helps me keep the progression of history in better order in my own thinking. If you are concerned that Triss isn't getting information about dates, etc. that may be important I suggest you have her do outlines and overviews of the period (or book chapter) she's studying including the important events, characters, documents and dates accompanied by a short explanation as to why they are relevant.