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    by Mike McHugh

Feeling A Little Testy?
Date Posted: December 20, 2007

I believe the concept of testing, a pillar of education for millennia, has fallen on hard times in recent years. Rather than viewing it as a useful tool, many view testing as a relic of less sensitive times in education. I must admit that I have known teachers to write test questions in such a way as to catch or trick unwary students.

The purpose of a test should be to determine whether the student has learned the material. If the student does poorly on a test—and I am assuming that he doesn’t have learning problems—the most obvious conclusion should be that he has not yet learned the material and still needs to learn it. When I taught my children at home, they knew that each concept needed to be learned. I was not harsh in my insistence on this, but I admit to being unrelenting.

I designed the tests to determine if my children knew the material they needed to know. When I used tests that were designed by others, I made sure we had covered all of the concepts that were covered in the tests, but I did not limit my instruction to teaching the items on the test. When my children completed a test, we discussed all of their answers and they were required to correct all of their mistakes. This exercise was not some kind of punishment, but a logical extension of the teaching process. It helped them to learn the material.

My approach to testing produced little or no fear of testing in my children. They studied in order to learn the material rather than just to “pass the test,” because they knew that, regardless of their score, we were going to go through the usual after-test exercise anyway. I, on the other hand, grew up studying for tests with the attitude that all I had to do was memorize the material, pass the test, and make everyone happy. Then it was over—and soon forgotten. I believe I was not unique in holding this view, and I also believe many parents still see tests as a torment to be suffered rather than a natural and helpful part of learning.

In my work at the Christian Liberty Academy home school program, I often speak to parents who are ordering achievement tests, and I detect either a great deal of fear in them or an attitude that testing is a nuisance to be avoided whenever possible. I can understand these feelings in those who are seriously concerned that state education officials may give them trouble if their children perform poorly on the tests. More often, however, I think the primary issue is really a wrong attitude about the purpose of testing. I often speak to parents who only give tests to their children when absolutely required to do so, because they are remembering the stress they felt when taking tests. I believe this attitude is often communicated to the student and may actually exacerbate the problem.

I recommend that parents begin to administer the achievement test at second grade (the lowest level available) because it gives them the opportunity to get used to this type of testing. Students will encounter it throughout their lives. They will most likely have to take ACT and/or SAT tests eventually if they want to attend college.

When an achievement test is administered, it should be pointed out to the student that the purpose of the test is to determine if they know the concepts they need to know in order to embark on this next level of work. If they do not know the concepts they need to know, then the next level will be more difficult for them, if not completely frustrating. Therefore, if they do poorly on the tests, time should be spent reviewing the concepts not yet mastered.

I think it is important that children be given to understand from the outset that there ARE certain concepts that they must learn in life. That is the very purpose of elementary education. Children need to learn to read and write well in order to communicate effectively. They need to understand math and science concepts in order to effectively care for their needs as they grow up. They need a basic understanding of the history of the world and our country in order to be effective citizens. Beneath it all, they need a foundational understanding of God’s Word in order to glorify Him. We need to communicate these things to our children as we teach them. Testing is just one way of determining, in each branch of knowledge, whether or not they have learned what they need to know.

Copyright 2007 Alice Hovde

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at www.homeschools.org.
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