Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.
As is true of many schools in our state and nation, we administer annual standardized tests. But there’s a difference.
We test because we can, not because we have to; this is unfortunately not the case for a majority of American schools. Education in the United States has been preoccupied with standardized testing this past century, but especially so during the past decade. From President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” in 2001 to President Obama’s “Race to the Top” in 2009, we have not lacked for modernity’s attempts to measure educational success.
There’s little conceptually wrong with this; assessment is a good thing, which is why we test our students every year. For us, good uses of testing include identifying general areas of instruction that need improvement as well as facilitating home/school interaction as to future specific differentiated instruction within our unique blended model. We take test results seriously, but not so seriously that they blind us to the bigger picture captured in our Portrait of a Graduate.
Most of what you hear or read about testing is negative, and rightly so due to the unintended consequence of schools choosing to “teach to the test” for the sake of increased government funding. In addition, the modernist mentality of “all success must be measurable” is limiting in evaluating what a student has learned and not just what he or she can regurgitate. Test scores can be a helpful measure of past and/or current realities, but often are poor predictors of true success (especially a more biblically-informed definition of success currently missing from our Department of Education).
Here are just a few things that testing does not help us evaluate about a student’s experience across a school year:
- Leadership potential and growth
- Enjoyment of spontaneous creation
- Value of actively engaging with community
- Risk-taking and innovation
- Empathy and compassion
- Ability to ask deep questions
- Reception of constructive criticism
- Integrity and humility
- Desire for truth, goodness, and beauty
- Collaboration with others
- Overall love of learning
The list could go on and on, but the point is this: testing provides some insight into a student’s academic achievement, but not all of it.
Of course, on the flip side of the testing question is the concern that kids shouldn’t be made to test for reasons of pressure creating or contributing to existing test anxiety. Some argue that standardized testing (and its results, particularly if they’re not what the parent – not always the student – hoped for) could work against a kid’s self-esteem and confidence and therefore should not be used.
We must not forget that the only real way students build confidence is to attempt, struggle through, and overcome challenging things. The lie is that education should be easy; learning (i.e. that which goes beyond mere regurgitation of information and crosses over into character formation) is difficult. When it comes to helping our students deal with testing anxieties, the key for us as parents is not to over-emphasize perfect test results, but to help students shoot for improved ones.
Our goal should be to help students lean into and learn to stand up under stress rather than run away or hide from it. Stress is both a part of life and an important formation tool God uses in the lives of people (think of all the stress He intentionally brought upon those in the Bible He chose to use). We should help students respond with faithfulness as they take hold of the task at hand, for as James 1 speaks specifically to spiritual growth, the principle applies to growth that is of an educational nature as well.
So we test our Grammar and Logic School students and take seriously the results. But we want to help them understand that the ultimate goal of assessment is not to pass the test and then fail life. That just would not not be very smart at all.