Because life is a series of edits

Why We Test (and Why We Don’t)

In Pedagogy, Students on April 17, 2013 at 10:56 am


"Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted."

Albert Einstein

As is true of many schools in our state and nation, Veritas is administering standardized tests this week. Our Grammar and Logic students (1st-through 8th grades) are taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, while our 9th and 10th graders are taking the PLAN Test. (We're doing some other developmental things with PreK, Kindergarten, and 11th and 12th grades so they don't feel left out.)

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 at Veritas 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.

Over the past eight years, Veritas
students have scored in the 90th percentile of the ITBS.
In addition, over this same period of time, we've tracked a 10-point
improvement over students' own pre-admission assessment scores, which
means students are improving while with us (for comparison, most public schools report only a 1-to-2-point improvement over the year).

In 2012, across the core subjects (defined by the ITBS as language
skills, reading, and mathematics), our students’ national percentile
rank for K through 8th grades was 84th and our school’s national
percentile rank for K through 8th grade was 97th. This means that, on
average, Veritas students scored higher than 83% of American students
and we as a school scored higher than 96% of American schools taking the
ITBS in these subjects. Also (and as in previous years), our
students tested an average of three grade levels above their grade

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.
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.

  1. Good article. I appreciate that Veritas isn’t “bound” to teach to the test, but uses the test as a gauge and nothing more. I do wonder, however, if private schools should adjust their results by age, not just grade. For instance, it seems many private schools (not only Veritas) tend to have older students in their grades for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I wonder if it is fair to compare with public schools, where parents don’t tend to put their kids in later.

  2. Excellent points, Craig. I would add to your list of qualities not captured by standardized tests this little tidbit: multiple recent studies have shown that behavioral persistence and sustained passion (which together are called “grit” by some researchers) do a better job at predicting success in college than IQ or the SAT. “Grit” is more of a character trait than an academic skill, which is not to imply that it can’t be measured. It CAN be measured in a variety of ways, but this trait is not something captured on any standardized academic test. Building the training of persistence and sustained passion into an educational model — which I think Veritas does — is a great way to help prepare students for success in life, not just success on a test.
    In response to the comment above about making age-related adjustments to test scores, this is a great point for younger students, where age can make a big difference. The difference is negligible when we talk about older students, though. This is one of several reasons not to take standardized test scores of very young students too seriously. I’ve seen such scores move around dramatically from year to year with the same students, and not because the students are changing dramatically in their academic abilities (going up 10 points one year, and down 20 points the next, for instance).

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