What I Love (and Hate) About Achievement Tests

2018_6_1 - Achievement Testing_Jessica Cole.jpg

Our school year is coming to a close, and for many of us, that means end-of-year testing. I always enjoyed achievement testing as a kid, and I still appreciate it as a teacher. We are, of course, required to do yearly tests in our state, but I think I would probably choose to do them even if it were not required (as is the case in several states). Here are a few reasons why:

1) Achievement tests help my students to know when they’re doing well. While I don’t want my children to think that the goal of our instruction is to match (or outmatch) their academic peers, I do want them to be able to see the areas in which they truly shine. It can be difficult for homeschoolers to know how they measure up when the only ones to whom they regularly compare themselves are their siblings. Granted, this can be a blessing in some ways, but I’ve come to learn that some children are naturally going to be curious (and sometimes presumptuous) about their academic standings. My older two daughters, in particular, often require convincing that 3 errors on a math lesson or a spelling test truly do not mean they are terrible at learning. Being able to show them in solid statistics on how they are doing as compared to their peers can give them the reassurance that they are doing just fine.

2) Tests help me to see my students’ progress. While I am not as bothered by the individual errors in a test or lesson, it can be disheartening to see your child make the same types of errors over and over despite your efforts to help them improve. My third daughter often has this issue in math, and unlike my other daughters, she really couldn’t care less about it. Even more frustrating is the fact that I know she knows how to fix the error—she just isn’t that motivated to do the best she can. In situations like these, I can tend to become hyper-focused on the trouble area while neglecting the fact that she is doing extremely well in other areas and still making progress (albeit slowly) on this one. This year, it was encouraging to see that although she is a little behind her peers in a few areas, she advanced more than one grade level in every area as compared to last year, and in some subjects she is truly excelling!

3) They help me see the areas that need work. As the above demonstrates, my kids certainly have a few of those! And although I can usually tell pretty well what these possible improvement areas are beforehand, tests can give me more specific direction and focus.

4) They give us a few days off of school! Our testing usually takes us three days, but considering many of our subjects are based on a weekly schedule, we normally just take the rest of the week off. Plus, because everything is timed, we often get through our testing more quickly than regular schoolwork. To me, it feels almost like a vacation!

While I think these reasons would be sufficient for me to keep doing achievement tests even in a state where they were not required, I wouldn’t say they are necessarily the best way to measure a student’s progress. They do have their drawbacks in certain areas, such as…

1) Tests are not all that helpful in the younger grades, especially for good readers. If I had the option, I might choose not to start testing until about third grade. First of all, I don’t believe children barely out of kindergarten should need to stress about being evaluated. They are still fairly new to school, and there is plenty of time to catch up in areas that may be a little lacking. Also, for first and second grade, the tests we use (Iowa Basics) are almost entirely dictated, and several of the sections have answers in pictures. While I can understand how this might be helpful for some children, my kids have all been good readers and have tended to do better once they get to the tests where they can read the questions and answers for themselves. Some of those pictures can be more confusing than a written word would be! Again, it was helpful for me to see the results of my third daughter’s tests (for second grade), so I’m certainly not up in arms about the fact that they are required. But I do take these earlier tests with a heavy grain of salt, and I don’t stress too much about the areas in which they measure behind.

2) Test questions can sometimes have questionable answers. While subjects like math and spelling are pretty straightforward, sometimes the answers in the reading sections can be a bit tricky. I can think of one question in particular where there were two answers that I felt were both valid: one of them was more likely the correct answer, but the other was a plausible alternative. Sometimes the answer may depend on the child’s imagination more than their actual comprehension of the material.

3) Test results don’t always give an accurate picture of true achievement. This truth can be drawn from both of the points above, but I think it is true for other reasons as well. For one, some children just don’t test well. They may be brilliant, but when test time comes, they may freeze up or their abilities simply do not translate well on paper. For another, some students may test behind grade level because of a non-traditional approach to a particular subject. I have been using history and science curricula that employ an immersive approach, with a more detailed look into each era or study over multiple years, as opposed to giving a broad spectrum of the whole subject in one year. Since our history studies this year have only covered from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Elizabethan Age, my children are not yet as well versed in American history as their peers. So again, I often remind my kids (as well as myself) that these tests are certainly not the full picture of what they know.

Overall, I would say achievement tests are a helpful tool; one must simply take the results with a grain of salt! Do you appreciate achievement tests? Do you test your children even where it is not required?

—Jessica

Photo Credit: iStock

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