The Perils of State Testing

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My eldest daughter took her first state test at 7 years old. It was the end of 2nd grade and, though my state does not require testing until after the 3rd grade, I thought it wise to give her the testing experience early. That way, when it counted the following year, she would be a pro.

Her scores were magnificent. I knew they would be. After all, I had been an academic child who tested well, so I really expected nothing less.

But the next year, I opened her scores and my heart sank to my knees. Her score was almost 20 percentile points lower than the previous year. I went into the bathroom alone and cried. Obviously I was doing something terribly wrong. Maybe I was not cut out for this homeschooling thing.

It was hard. I obsessed over it. I prayed to be released from this calling that I was apparently not equipped for. And all I heard was silence. I felt no release from my call to homeschool. So I pressed on, humbled and confused.

The years passed. My daughter continued to score in the same range. The range that I thought was too low, though it was above the national average. In my heart though, I knew she was smart. Why did her scores not reflect her brilliance?

Last week I finished my 13th year of homeschooling. I have four children and we have collectively taken more than 20 state tests. One of my kids is diagnosed with a learning disability. I knew I must find some perspective on this dreaded testing ritual, or I would go stark raving mad. I’d like to share some of that hard-earned perspective with you.

To the moms who are preparing for the test.
Understand from the outset that the test is only a guideline. It does not determine your child’s level of intelligence. Many smart kids bomb tests. Not everyone is ‘book-smart’, and not everyone tests well. It’s okay if your child is one of these.

Your child’s scores do not define you as a teacher. I have known kids to failed the test whose mothers hold teaching degrees. I have known children whose moms were fanatical about doing everything by the book, and yet they don’t test well. And then there are the kids who have received very little formal book learning who test off the charts regardless.

If you put too much stock in the test scores, your child will too. Any stress you feel will be magnified in your child. If you are burdening them with extra work in preparation for the test, you are missing the beauty of homeschooling altogether. If this is you, please take a moment and read, How I Plan to Get Ready For State Testing. I used to do this too, and I wrote that article for you.

To the moms who are done, and your child’s scores came back less than desirable.
The test can help us take stock of our child’s learning. If he did not test well, perhaps he simply learns differently than you thought. I have a friend who was frustrated because her son couldn’t seem to get his alphabet down. He’d have it, then forget it. His same-age brother, on the other hand, had no issues. Then one day her husband had a flash of brilliance. He had the boys run across the living room, naming the letters as they touched a wall. Back and forth, they were to recite the next letter as the opposite wall was reached. The son who had been struggling beat the one who was not. The boy who was lagging needed physical activity in order to learn. What an epiphany! The beauty of homeschooling is that we can accommodate our children’s varying learning needs.

Sometimes low test scores do indicate a learning disability. How do you know when it is something to worry about? The internet is full of information. Make use of it. There are many checklists available for all age groups that can give you an idea of whether you should seek a professional diagnosis or not.

But most importantly, mama, know that you are not a failure. Let me say that again: You are not a failure. God called you to do this. That means the Almighty Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and All That is in it thinks YOU are the very best teacher for your child. Are you seriously prepared to argue with Him about that?

Pick yourself up, dust off your bruised ego, and assess why the scores were not what you wanted them to be. Change the things you need to.  Then accept who your child is and how they might learn differently. Albert Einstein may have said it best:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will spend its entire life believing it is stupid.”

And now for the hardest bit of perspective I can give you. This will undoubtedly make some of you angry, but here goes…

To the mom whose child tested great.
Keep it to yourself. I know you want to shout it from the rooftops. I know you are proud of your child. I know that high test scores give you a feeling of validation. And I truly want to rejoice with you in your victory, but as I’ve pondered this, I stand by my advice for a number of reasons.

*Your child’s high test scores just might be the straw that breaks another mama’s back. We humans have a nasty habit of comparing ourselves to others, and your victory will stand in stark, condemning contrast to the mom whose child is struggling. It may not seem fair, but please hear my heart on this. I know the discouragement, worry, and confusion that come with teaching a child who struggles. We don’t talk about it much either, so you may be sharing your victory with a mom who feels shamed that her own child has failed. Let us be sensitive to this.

*You risk labeling your child. Even positive labels like ‘she’s my smart one’ can have negative consequences. When a child earns parental approval through academic achievement, it can put an enormous amount of pressure on the child to continue to perform. It becomes their identity and feeds the beast of perfectionism.

*Siblings will compare their scores. No good will come from this. Especially if you have learning disabilities or diverse learning styles. Do not let your little fish compare himself with your bird or your monkey. All of your kids are smart in different ways, and comparing test scores will simply breed resentment, discouragement, or pride.

Finally, remember it is just a test. It is a useful tool for assessing where you’re at in your homeschool, but it should not rule you. Keep it in its proper place; do not allow it undue power over you or your children.

We do not educate our children at home for high test scores. We do not do it so that the world will look at us in awe. We do it in obedience to Jesus, who called us to it. And when we press on, we eventually see why He asks us to do this crazy thing. In due season, the multitude of fruits become evident.

Thank you, Lord, for calling me to this. Let me see my children through Your eyes, not through the lens of man-made test scores. Give me Your vision for each of my children. Give me glimmers of the talents and gifts You have given them. Then infuse me with wisdom, that I may nurture those passions to help them become people who love You with all that they are. Amen.

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6 thoughts on “The Perils of State Testing

  1. So relieved that state testing for homeschoolers isn’t mandatory here. I would have been a total wreck. Good advice and insight here. My 2 college boys don’t test great but they have always been on the Dean’s list. (Which they never share with anyone and neither do I, other than here 🙂

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    • Yes, you’re lucky to have escaped the dreaded testing. I have indeed spent years being a total basket case, focusing on preparing for the silly test rather than learning fun and creative things. Sigh. I finally learned to loosen up and not worry about it so much. I just wish I had done that sooner. Thanks for stopping in, Anita!

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  2. Excellent perspective. Thanks for sharing. And remember, in a few years those silly test scores (high and low) will be a vague memory. Character, not algebra, is the timeless quality that helps our kids succeed.

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    • Thanks for stopping in, Traci! You are so right–those scores won’t matter a lick in a few short years. It’s all too easy to get distracted from what really matters. Blessings to you!

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Jason. This is one of the few topics I can actually speak on with some authority. I only wish I’d learned these things sooner–my poor oldest had to suffer through my neurotic cycle before testing time each year. Now it seems of such little importance!

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