Friday, November 11, 2011

The problem with tests

Recently, a little incident in the car illustrated how easy it is for children to miss the point of their academic efforts.

My daughters use an online program from a private school. They log in and watch the class presentations, do the homework and take the tests provided by the school. The school offers history, science and English in both accredited and non-accredited formats. We've chosen the non-accredited option so the only one they report their scores to is me. If one of my children does badly on a test or assignment, I have them repeat it until they understand the material.

While I drove one of my daughters to a music lesson, she studied for a history test. Each test has a section where the student is required to fill in a time line with important dates for the time period they are studying.

As she is reciting the dates and events, my daughter listed a date followed by a single word, "Barbarians."

I questioned her about what that meant. She replied that "...that is what the teacher said."

I persist with "....but what does that mean?"

She responded with, "I don't know. That is all he said. This is what I need to put on the timeline for the test." She was upset at this point.

I explained to my daughter that if she doesn't know what something means, then that's a problem and that she needs to do something about it no matter what the "teacher" said. At this point I called home with the phone on speaker and asked one of the other girls to tell me what happened on that date and what does it mean.

My middle daughter explained to us both what the teacher meant (and most likely said during class.) The same teacher teaches both the upper and lower history classes. While it is possible that the material was not explained in as much detail to the younger class, I doubt it.

I preached to my now very grumpy daughter a little sermon on "this is why you don't go to school." I care that she understands the material. Getting the right answer on a test is pointless if she can't use the information.

To my youngest daughter, the grade on the assignment matters a lot, understanding the material, apparently not so much yet.


Christie L Shaw said...

I understand where you are coming from! When my children did attend school they often did not connect with the lessons. We found that by studying the subjects ie: english, history,math, with a connection to something they were really interested in brought home the meaning in a usable format for them. On line schooling is better than public school but still has its disadvantages. Good luck and keep checking on their progress!

Luke said...

When I entered public high school, I was instantly aware of this phenomenon: Tests dictate that the "right" answer is what's important, not understanding. That's when I came up with my motto for classroom-based schooling: I will learn until my grades start to suffer, at which point I will stop learning to get the grade.

Sad that the system rewards such thinking. I graduated top of my class. Thankfully, I learned to think about learning in a classroom differently in college.