Practice Testing

A few weeks ago I introduced Bailey (9) to the world of standardized testing.  The state of IL does not require homeschoolers to be tested, and I have my doubts about what standardized tests really measure.  The fact of the matter is, though, that most colleges still prefer ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process and often for scholarship consideration as well.  So, I want my kids to be prepared when they need to start taking the big tests in high school.

We started with the Spectrum Test Practice Grade 3 (since that was the grade she just finished).  On Monday I showed her what an answer sheet looks like and a sample page from the book.  We discussed the purpose of testing, what the rules and procedures normally are, and tips for answering multiple choice questions.  On each day for the rest of the week I administered two to three sections of the practice test.  I graded the percentage of right answers like a normal test; it’s kind of hard to assign a percentile compared to other students when there is only one student taking the test.

I think it was a good basic introduction to how to fill out the bubble grids, paying attention to directions, and other parts of the process.  On the flip side, we couldn’t really replicate a real testing situation.  When the kids at the local elementary are taking their I-SATs they don’t have three younger kids running around playing or sitting at the same table coloring and arguing.

It’s also really hard to keep a “professional boundary” between the proctor and the student when you are used to a much less formal relationship.  And I could see how the results could be skewed when you have a history together of immediate support and assistance; it’s hard to know how much explanation you can give without it being too much.

Plus, as the week progressed, things became more stressful in the house with lots of different appointments and happenings.  Twice on a really stressful day I accidentally gave Bailey the Sample test instead of the Practice test.  We didn’t realize it until she got to the end and had more answer bubbles left than test questions.  Needless to say, neither one of us took it very well.  So, note to self…schedule practice testing for a week when you don’t have five million other things going on.

Not surprisingly Bailey did the best on the Reading (vocabulary and reading comprehension) and Math sections (concepts, computation, and applications) since those are the subjects I have emphasized the most over the past four years.  She did middling on Language Expression, mainly because we haven’t started any formal grammar yet.  That is on the schedule for 4th grade.

Bailey did the worst on Science and Social Studies.  I wasn’t too surprised about the science since we haven’t done much formal science study.  At the same time I’m not sure that only 8 questions gives a fair sampling, even though I understand this is just supposed to be a practice test rather than a formal test.  But those 8 questions were also highly variable with aspects of biology, physics, chemistry, and astronomy.  I’m not sure that any 3rd grader would have been able to answer all 8 unless they had been taught to the test.

The social studies test was only 13 questions.  Again this was not a very big sampling, and if you graded the test on standard percentages, a kid would have to miss no more than 3 to pass with a “C”.  Most of our social studies has been history-based with a bit of geography.  There was only 1 history question.  So, this just reflected that we had studied the wrong things.

I must admit that Bailey did not do quite as well as I thought she would, but I think it is really more a reflection of the limits of standardized testing than her intelligence or my teaching skills.  Some of the math questions she missed had to do with rounding, which the Singapore Math U.S. edition doesn’t introduce until the beginning of fourth grade.  I refuse to get too worked up about the results.  If I’m going to teach to the test than I might as well just put her in public school.

Next year I might get a CAT test and have Seton Homeschool professionally score it.  If we do, we’ll probably reserve a library study room, so that Bailey can take it with fewer distractions.  But  at some point before she gets to high school I would like to set it up for someone else with whom she is less familiar to proctor a standardized test with her.  I think it would make the experience more accurate for her.  And that’s all I really care about:  having my kids practice the bizarre experience of standardized testing, so that it doesn’t seem so foreign when it could (even more bizarrely) influence their future opportunities.

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