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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Teaching to the Test

The letter came in the mail detailing the procedure for Elle's manadatory participation in the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy for Years 3, 5, 7, and 9. She will sit the test at the public school she briefly attended May 13, 14, and 15.

The information listed several websites for sample questions and instructions, so I took a look, because not much can make me as a home educator as anxious as the idea of standardized testing when we ourselves are not standardized, and I wanted to see if the material we have been covering matches what is on the exam.

Of course it doesn't.

The first day's work, Language Conventions, is comprised of 50 questions, half on grammar and punctuation, the other half on spelling. The grammar and punctuation part might be a bit of a challenge because we are not following the same scope and sequence, but nothing we can't brush up on. The spelling part? Gah. Elle is not a natural speller. I've only been lucky enough to have one of those so far, Sarabelle, who led me into a false sense of security that all children, or at least those of my genesis, would pick up spelling as readily as I did. Not to mention, should there be any on this test, I'm sure she will suffer for her Americanization of certain words. Instructions to identify the word "spelt" incorrectly may have her scratching her head. Next up is the writing test. Students have 35 minutes to compose a story on a given topic. If they can read her chicken scratch (we are working on penmanship though she constantly lapses back into a bizarre monkey-like grip, an on-going battle for the past three years) she might be alright except that telling her a topic to write on is to her mind less an instruction than a mere jumping-off point. Why do I have to write about my first day on Mars? Can my story be about a scary birthday present a little girl gets? What if her birthday party is on Mars? Or! I know, a story about Lulu flying a plane? No? But what if Lulu flies a plane to Mars? Where is the test for negotiation skills I wonder.

Teaching tips for instructors suggest, "Children can prepare for this kind of writing task by learning how to 'read like a writer'. During reading lessons, explore the stance writers take and the choices they make about subject matter and how it is organised. For example, they can identify how a textbook uses nominalisation." There are so many problems with those three brief sentences: Aside from British spellings and the obvious directive to teach to the test and the reliance on textbooks, there is the recommendation to help them identify nominalizations. Grammatical or lexical? Isn't this a bit arbitrary and advanced? Do you know what a nominalization is? Is there any indication that good writers should avoid them? Not on the one webpage, an amateurish uncredited page with a lesson on the water cycle, given as an example. It would have been interesting to see what the other two websites given as examples were all about, but both .edu sites (one Miami University in Ohio) were dead links.

The next day is a reading test, basic comprehension, 35-40 multiple choice and a few fill-in-the-blanks. The hardest part will be staying inside the lines filling in bubbles.

Finally, numeracy. Again with the different scope and sequence. I'll try to pass on a few tips for solving some of the problem types we haven't come to yet, try the sample test questions, yes, teach to the test in other words, but honestly, her best is good enough for me.

But here's the rub. Should she do her best and not come up to measurably approved standards, there is the implied threat that she could be forcibly returned to school. This doesn't concern me too much, because the time it takes to make things happen here is often protracted and nothing a legal advocate couldn't slow down even further, and by then we'd probably be back in Florida anyway, but what about the other unfortunate homeschoolers stuck in this situation?

And what about the kids regularly attending school who don't perform to the standards? What is their punishment?

1 comment:

Becky said...

"And what about the kids regularly attending school who don't perform to the standards? What is their punishment?"

They have to go back for yet another year?

Ugh. Poor Elle, and poor you. I wish there was something I could send you both to distract you.

We're supposed to have something similar here in Alberta, for grades 3, 6, and 9, but depending on the school board with which you're registered (the more hs'ing friendly, the better), you can opt out by signing a form attesting that the child is bla bla bla meeting age-related or grade-related outcomes bla bla bla.
And believe it or not, the poorer students are (unofficially of course) strongly encouraged *not* to attend school on test days, so that they don't bring the average down. Neat, eh?