Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why I don’t test or assign grades.

Short answer:  Because I don’t think tests or grades can accurately explain how well a subject matter has actually been grasped and in many cases I think that testing is more detrimental than it is helpful.

I see the question of grades and tests and evaluations a lot when the subject of home schooling comes up. It’s amusing how upset people can get at the idea that we are allowed to do things differently than teachers and students in traditional classrooms.  Not testing and labeling ability is paramount to abuse in some circles.  To put it mildly they just don’t get it.

I could test and grade if I wanted to. In Colorado there is very little oversight for home schoolers, something I am very thankful for.  We are required to register as home schoolers every school year once the child has reached 7 years old and to record 172 days of instruction per year.  We are also required to have our children take standardized tests or be evaluated by someone the state deems worthy every other year starting with the 3rd grade.  That’s it.  Thank goodness.  My plan is to have my children evaluated until they are ready for the 9th grade standardized test.  We will avoid tests and grades until then.

I cannot speak for anyone else and I don’t want to as applying a broad stereotype to home schoolers just doesn’t work.   One of the main reasons we home school is the flexibility we are allowed.  I like taking breaks whenever it suits us.  I like taking vacations during the off seasons.  I like not being married to curriculum that isn’t working for the kids.  I also really like not labeling their abilities with tests and grades.

Gracie has been a great example of why tests and grades and classroom competition feel so wrong to me.  She’s been flying through the end of her math book.  Just absolutely kicking it.  It’s awesome to watch because until this point math has not really been her strong suit.  The whole thing got me thinking.  See, I was never good at math. Or more to the point I was labeled not good at math.   Somewhere during those high pressure timed tests given in elementary school to see who can do how many problems more correctly and faster than anyone else I gave up.  I was never fastest. I never had them all correct. So I wasn’t good. I was in the lower math group in my class and I decided that it wasn’t worth caring about.  Gracie and I are extremely alike. She is my mini-me in oh so many ways.  She strives to do the right thing.  She tries hard.  She feels things very deeply and when she thinks she’s not doing it right she will just shut down and label herself as stupid and label stuff she thinks she should know as too hard.  In a traditional classroom setting she would be exactly where I was when it came to math.  I know this without a doubt.  It would be a huge shame because it’s not that she hasn’t known how to do things, but she takes her time, she likes to get it right the first time.  So, here at home I have been able to see her learn and do without the pressure of the super math whiz in the class beating her on every single math test.  I do her work beside her.  I am constantly evaluating if she understands what she is doing and it doesn’t take a test and a red marker for me to know where she is at.  She checks her own work with a calculator and if it’s wrong she fixes it. If she can’t figure out how to fix it I do it with her.  Now, because she is able to learn and understand in her own way and at her own pace she is becoming a math whiz.

The love of learning is one of my main goals for my children. I want them to want to learn about whatever it is they want to learn about. I want them to be able to critically think about those things.  I want them to be internally motivated as much as possible.  I don’t want their self worth destroyed because they were the slowest and I don’t want their self worth inflated because they are the only student with a whole row of stars on the chart.  Pitting kids against each other isn’t necessary for them to learn.  Timed tests, trading papers to grade other students work, sticker charts, posted grades and recognition for the “best” leaves a whole lot of kids wonder why they even try which can then translate into a lifetime negatives for them, determining they aren’t good enough for a major they would like to have in college or a job they would love as an adult.

Back to me and math.  The whole problem with the labels I had put on me in elementary is that they were wrong.  I am good at math.  I also really enjoy math. It took me becoming a teacher to discover that though.  I basically had to go back to the beginning and then it hit me and I realized “Wait, I AM good at this!!”.  I like doing math. I like doing our bills, I like doing our taxes.  I could have taken advanced math classes and I would have done just fine with them had I not been in such a competitive classroom setting as a young child where I was convinced that because I wasn’t in the top group I wasn’t good. And if I wasn’t good I should probably avoid math.  If only I had been allowed to enjoy and understand math in my own time and at my own pace without my progress being labeled.  If only.  This is just one example I have of how grading and testing and what ended up essentially being tracking pushed me to do things in college not because I necessarily enjoyed them but because it was where I belonged since I wasn’t “academic”.

I know schools in some places have come pretty far and that some of the competition has been eliminated.  I also know that in most places in our country education is in dire straights and students are prepped for test scores much more than they are prepped to know what their own personal strengths and weaknesses are.  Statistically those with very involved parents are generally the ones who have the best chances and the most success, so I figure why not go all the way and remove traditional school from the equation entirely?  Some would say we are throwing the baby out with the bath water but hey, it works for us.  I really don’t feel like fighting against institutional education for the next 12 years.

So there you have it.  We don’t test or grade.  Eventually we will have to, especially as I prepare high school transcripts for the kids.  I’m not ignorant, I know how our society works.  I am an idealist though, so I’m glad that at least for the moment we can have our ideal.

1 comment:

  1. I too don't like grades. I grew up with very grade-obsessed parents and realized later in life that even though I got As and Bs, I couldn't regurgitate information unless it had been inherently interesting to me. I agree tests are not always an accurate representation of one's *knowledge*. Sometimes it just shows superb test-taking skills - which is not the same as knowledge.