If testing is meaningless, why am I so thrilled?

We got the results back from the standardized test Maya took last month in order to be in compliance with the DOE.

Guess what?   She did better than we expected.

In fact, the results were astounding and I felt a physical thrill run through my body, followed almost immediately by embarrassment.   Seriously?  I’m going to go all gooey over good test scores?  Me, the standard bearer against standardized testing?

Have I no shame?

When I told Maya the numbers, she basically just shrugged.  And why not?  She hasn’t been subjected to years of school where test results are THE indicator of worth and intelligence.  She believes me when I say it means nothing either way.

Actually, though, the more I thought about it, the test results were very revealing in one particular way.

Last year Maya took her first required test after completing her 5th official year of homeschooling.  She was nervous, stressed and rushed through most of the test  while I went to get groceries.   I didn’t even know she was doing it until I got home and she told me she was done.

The results came in and they were fine (I think “average” was the official terminology).   Our lives went on as usual.

This summer we decided to go ahead and do the 7th grade test early; Maya officially begins her 7th year this Fall.  We did this because then we can report to the DOE that she has already ‘tested out’ of the 7th grade.  This does not excuse us from mandatory paperwork, but it’s kind of a mental free pass.

There was zero pressure.  No expectations.  She wasn’t stressed.  We did a quick 15 minute “test prep”, mostly consisting of Math vocabulary with which she is unfamiliar (“integer”, for example.  Does anyone use the word “integer” outside of a Math class?).   Then I sat at the table with her while she took the test.   We laughed over some of the questions.  Particularly the one about the boy who loves to throw parties; he throws parties for himself, all of his friends, and so on.  Finally he runs out of parties to throw.  What does he do then?   One of the possible answers? “Redecorate his bathroom.” It might not seem that funny now, but we were gasping for air & wiping away tears at the time.

The test results are in and they are impressive, as test results go. (Official term?  HIGH)   Does this mean my daughter has suddenly become a lot smarter?

Of course not.

The revealing thing is the effect of stress and circumstance on a person taking a test.    Last year Maya was upset, stressed and rushed through the test while alone.    This year she was relaxed, knew the drill and was not alone.   Not surprisingly, the results were better.

Testing as a measure of intellect is meaningless.  I know the good scores this year mean only that Maya was relaxed and maybe even a little lucky.   She either knew most of the answers, or was able to deduce the most likely answer;  but that’s just the result of doing better at the skill of test taking.   As is the case with most skills, people perform better when they are relaxed.   For kids in school who “test well”, sitting in a classroom with 30 other kids under the watchful eye of the teacher, often with time restraints, is no big deal.  For others it is a disaster.

So yes, I’m thrilled with the test results.  Not because I think it is a validation or indication of my daughter’s intellect, but because it takes the pressure off.   And probably because there is still that part of me – which I usually refer to as “school brain”- that is programmed to feel happy about a high test score.   What can I say?  Nobody’s perfect.

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