Administering a standardized test to a group of TEN first graders, most of whom have never taken such a test in their lives, was quite an experience. I had the advantage of knowing what to expect because I'd given the same test to last year's crop of homeschooled first graders, but there were fewer than ten of 'em and that made quite a difference.
Most of the children in our group were nervous and excited and had no idea what would be expected of them. One asked half-way through the first Language Arts test if it was going to be time to play with the toys soon. I really hated telling her that toys wouldn't be involved in her testing experience today. Truth be told, but for a 30 minute or so break for lunch and as many stretch and wiggle breaks as we dared to build into the schedule, these first graders would not be involved with anything but their number two pencils and their test booklets for the next 6 hours.
In the public school system, (at least when I was a student) standardized tests are given over a number of days with students working on certain sections of the test for a few hours each day. The tests in public schools are administered by the same teacher who has been teaching the students all year and in the same school room that the students have called their home away from home all year.
The logistics involved in the testing of homeschoolers does not allow for a similar testing atmosphere.
Testing for homeschoolers involves the following:
- Registering for the test in January or February and sending $30/per test for the privilege.
- Waking up early enough to remember to find your number two pencils and a self-addressed stamped envelope to hand in at the door and maybe brush your teeth and get dressed.
- Hoping your mother/teacher packed your lunch and has it ready for you.
- Leaving your home/school in a rush so that you have plenty of time to locate the testing site (which to many of the first-graders was a completely foreign building to them).
- Entering a room full of other wide-eyed anxious kids, bursting with energy, waiting to be called to join the rest of your grade-mates and led off to a room with a woman or women you may or may not be familiar with (trained homeschooling moms who volunteer to be "testers" of kids who don't belong to them so that other moms are available to be "testers" of kids who do!).
- Sitting at a table with other children you may or may not know and being given a strange series of directions about the importance of "completely filling in your bubbles".
- Remaining at that same table hour after hour while focusing on doing your best because somehow your teacher/mom has communicated to you that doing a good job on this test thing is I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T and you really really want to make your teacher/mother proud.
- Finally finishing the test and being released back to your mom/teacher who then grills you about all of the content on the test and asks you 17 or so times if you think you did well while she finishes your lunch that you were unable to finish earlier in the day because you were too nervous to eat.
You can understand the hesitation on the part of most of us homeschooling moms/teachers to put our kids/students through this process more than one day per year!
The first graders were a great group of kids who wanted to do their very best. One even reported "I am really wanting to make 100% on this!" After the first 45 minutes or so the children had had enough and were ready for lunch. Unfortunately it was still well before 10 am and we had a long way to go. It was about then that we took our first of what would be many breaks. During this break, I attempted to impress the kids with a few short nonsense poems I had in my memory and was then bested by two little girls who had memorized a twelve stanza poem (4 lines per stanza that is!) back in December and proceeded to trot it out for us here in April!!!
During another break, a lovely young student showed us a ballet routine complete with a graceful finish. On still another break a little guy showed us some of his martial arts maneuvers. Most of the children endured their abnormal circumstances with manners and grace most adults couldn't muster even as they grew more and more exhausted as the day wore on. These kids were talent and brains and charisma all over the place.
Most of the questions on the test were asked aloud by the other mom/teacher/tester and the children filled in their bubbles and we made sure with each and every question that the kids were filling out the question that corresponded with the number we were working on. We watched many correct answers as they were filled in, we watched wrong answers occur, we watched with grins as the students were asked to measure a clown's bow tie to the nearest inch and used their fingers, pencils, and extra paper in many creative ways to get it right. We watched each child deal with boredom, stress, irritation, excitement and confidence in his or her own unique manner.
On one of our last "shake the wiggles out" breaks, one of the students asked me, "Do you know what my very favorite subject is?"
"What is it?" I asked.
"History!" she said happily.
"Ohhh, I like history too. What are you studying right now in history?"
"Rome," she said as her weary eyes lit. "Did you know..." at that she was interrupted by one of her peers who said, "Have you ever heard about the Colosseum? They used to let animals kill bad guys there."
I looked to find a group of very young students gathered round all waiting to talk about ancient Rome. Unfortunately, I had to break up the little think tank so that these bright children could return to a test that sorely under-represented the vast amounts of poetry, dance, history, martial arts, social skills and who knows what else that had a firm place in their collective brains.
Luke 20:25 tells us that Jesus instructs us to, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" which is mostly how I've begun to view this whole tiresome process of annual standardized tests. Our state requires the test results from parent/teachers, and so we render them. The weightier matter is in that second part of Jesus' instruction "...and [render] to God the things that are God's." It is on that point where I am frequently stopped short. What exactly am I rendering "unto God" in the educating of my children, because they certainly fall into the category of "the things that are God's" don't they? And what is the test for that? Will there be time for lunch? And I wonder how I'm doing at filling in all of the bubbles? Will my teacher be pleased with me? How long does this test last? Will it be graded on a curve? And when will I know the results?
Has anyone seen my No. 2 pencil????