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Michigan, United States
a registered yoga teacher, and a Thai/Yoga Bodywork practitioner.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Testy about testing

I didn't collect data, but if I had to guess at the second most asked question about home schooling?


Do you test them?

Does the state require you to test them?
(Followed by: Do you have to do a state curriculum? Testing implied there.)

How do you know they're learning [if you don't test]?

They're going to have to test sooner or later.
How are you going to prepare them?

In my memory is a catalog of snippets from classes and topics on which I tested. The only stuff that "stuck" were skills I practiced (typing) or subjects that fascinated me anyway. Even so, I would probably fail a test of the minutiae: the year of this, the marriage of those, the definition of that.

I went through college algebra and trigonometry, studying way more than the average student (hours in the help labs every week) and earning high B's / low A's. Ten years later, considering graduate school, I opened a GRE test guide and drew blanks on even the basics of those subjects.

Once... I knew them or thought I knew them.  I will be relearning those subjects or steering my own children toward critical thinking, economics and basic statistics. Higher math is awe inspiring, but so are most subjects in their advanced levels. That does not make them necessary for all. 

Testing only proved my short term memory was adequate.

We test because it's the only way to get a person/child to temporarily memorize what is considered essential.  Threaten them with a test. This will dictate whether a student gets to move on to more tests of other subjects or is forced to keep reviewing and "testing out" of a subject. 

Tests don't measure whether he/she can use the information in different situations or whether it is understood well enough to be taught to another. Just memorize, get through this, and move on to the next test.

Coincidentally, a couple articles in my weekend reading volley responses at this testing mania:

(i.e. creativity and innovation trump memorization)


A Tenth Grader Explains: Testing is not Learning 


Learning Curve
I added this link two days after the original post. Here's why: 
"In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus coined the term “learning curve.” He conducted research on memory and memorization and described his findings regarding both the learning curve, or rate at which knowledge is gained, and the forgetting curve, a related graph that measures how quickly memorized information is lost....
"The forgetting curve, however, has been largely ignored, yet the ways in which we forget are highly instructive... much of our forgetting occurs immediately after acquiring knowledge...
"In Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, best-selling author David Guterson recounts a classroom experiment he often practiced when he was a teacher. He’d prepare his students for a test on Friday, and then he’d spring the exact same test on them the following Monday. None of his students ever matched their initial test score." (emphasis added)



  1. "How do you know they're learning [if you don't test]?"
    I absolutely agree. This is, probably, the SECOND question I hear too. It would be funny, really, if it wasn't so weird.

    VERY nice post!

    1. When that question rolls in, I hear myself mentally reply, "Let's test you, then."

      We forget most of what we "learned" under force. That is how shows like "Who's Smarter Than a 5th Grader" come about.

      Thank you for the reply, Karen.

  2. I just had this question this weekend from a public school teacher. Tis was after he told me all the ways a few schools got their scores up by changing answers or walking around the room pointing out mistakes. I asked himif he wanted to read some of the narratives my son writes at the end of many units....especially history. He loved the idea of how I check for my son's understanding. I am looking forward to Tuesday door his writing do a slave on the Underground RR explaining where he came from and how and why he got there. Thanks for the post.

    1. TAJBK ~ Thank you for reading and writing!

      You bring up a point to underscore (pun!):

      the SCORE does not reflect UNDERSTANDING. Teachers like the one you speak of are cheating the system they advocate!

      We discuss things we read; I don't test them on it.

      We talk about longer/harder words; I don't hand them a vocabulary quiz.

      We find new ways to solve the math problems that puzzle them -- not just mark it "wrong" and reduce their "grade." (There are no grades here.)

  3. I'm a little late to the party, Jennifer, but I came by and read this and couldn't resist commenting.

    Does it ever occur to the people who ask those questions that they only test kids in school because there are so many kids, and the teacher needs a way to figure out what each kid knows? Testing is not the ideal; it's just a second-rate way of finding out what kids understand. It's far superior to figure out what they know through one-on-one interaction. You don't get a driver's license with only a written test; you need to do the one-on-one driving test because they want someone to *watch* you drive, and see if you're capable. One-on-one observation is more accurate than testing, and it's what we homeschoolers do every day.