We live in a world where we are tested from the time we are born.
At first the “test” is merely observation. Do we sit up, roll-over, walk, talk and other “skills” within a normal period of time following birth. Then we prepare to enter school. Again a test determines our readiness, and each level thereafter, a test determines our progress. Are we learning what we should? Are our teachers doing their job well enough?
When we pass a test, others express pride, pat themselves on the back, and we move on to greater challenges. There is ever another test. Through college, into our jobs and careers, and nobody knows where the test ends.
Here are some stories about failed tests.
I’ve written before about having difficulties reading when I was in school in my post Difficulties. So imagine taking a test, usually timed tests. How well do you think I did on those tests? For one thing, I never finished them. I froze on tests. I did about average, which says to me, a test, not a single one, ever came close to being a true measure of what I knew, nor what my intelligence was, nor a proper assessment of my talents. Imagine my surprise when I did well on a computer Mensa test.
I never thought I was a genius, but I didn’t think I was stupid either. I just didn’t apply myself, is what I was told. I knew I could have done better, if I had finished the test. I could have done better if I wasn’t filled with anxiety. No-one particularly cared if I did well in school. As a male science teacher told me, I was just going to get married and have babies, so why was I wasting his time.
My sister, Karen, in third grade was given the standard intelligence test. Karen was experiencing some of the same difficulties I was experiencing. Karen scored so low on the test that it was recommended she be transferred to a special school for the mentally challenged. Our parents vetoed that idea, keeping Karen in the social environment of her peers. Now study after study show that students whose teachers think of them as intelligent actually do better in school. Karen did not have this advantage. Karen was passed along with C’s to keep pace with her social peers.
Karen graduated high school and served in the US Army. When her time of service ended, she enrolled in college. Testing was part of that process. This round of testing did not show that Karen was retarded, developmentally delayed, nor intellectually challenged. Karen tested as an actual genius. Unfortunately, she died shortly after.
Our boy was challenged, but you would never know it to sit and talk with him, leaving us to question just what are his capabilities. No child left behind, left him in the dust. His AEP called for oral testing, but neither his classes nor the testing was set up to either teach nor test orally. Our boy dropped out in frustration, but found he could not get a job without a high school diploma.
Because of his AEP our boy was permitted to re-enter high school after the age of 18 and complete his high school education. Here were the requirements of graduation: attend classes, sit through the test and color in the circles, and graduate. Grades, learning, passing were not factors.
He is an excellent driver, with excellent spacial perception, but can’t pass the test to get his Commercial Drivers License. The test won’t be given orally. A job that pays well, and that he may be perfectly suited for, is denied him because of a handicap, and no willingness of accommodation. There may be other jobs that he is suited for, but No Child Left Behind did nothing to help him discover what that might me. Our boy’s reading ability is the determining factor in what jobs may be available to him. He also has severe asthma, which keeps him from a host of other jobs, like gardening, that the school tried to get him interested in.
I don’t trust the results of testing. Testing is done under a narrowly defined set of conditions, and do not consider anything that may interfere with true results, such as illness, hunger, thirst, needing to go to the bathroom, anxiety, unfamiliar language, etc. Testing doesn’t tell us what a person is capable of, but is only a snapshot of one particular moment, that may have been a bad moment. How hard a person works, is not tested. The determination of a person is not tested. Outside of a very narrow set of skills, aptitude is not tested.
I believe testing does more harm than good. Testing may be a necessary evil, but we shouldn’t let it direct our lives, nor the lives of our children. At best, testing is a minor tool in directing us to where our true talents lie.
I also believe the reason testing doesn’t work for children, is the same reason testing doesn’t work as a tool for determining a teachers competence as a teacher.