“Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.”
As is true of many schools in our state and nation, we at Petra Academy administer annual standardized tests. This week, our 1st-5th grade students will take their CTP tests and our 6th-9th graders will do the same during the second week of May. (We don’t test our 10th-12th graders in the spring since our sophomores take the PSAT in the fall, our juniors take the SAT in the fall and the ACT in the spring, and our seniors are graduating.)
But there’s a difference; we test because we can, not because we must. This is unfortunately not the case for a majority of American schools. Education in the United States has been preoccupied with standardized testing this past century, but especially so during the past 15 years. From President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” in 2002 to President Obama’s “Race to the Top” in 2009, we have not lacked for modernity’s attempts to measure educational success by filling in bubbles (nor, thankfully, have we lacked for the humorous critique of it, either).
There’s little conceptually wrong with testing; assessment is a good thing, which is why we test our students every year. For us, good uses of testing include identifying general areas of instruction that need improvement, as well as facilitating school/home interaction as to any academic strengths and weaknesses in students that we can discern. But while we take test results seriously, we do not take them so seriously that they blind us to the bigger picture of our vision of students equipped to live purposeful, godly lives fulfilled.
Most of what you hear or read about testing is negative, and rightly so due to the unintended consequence of schools choosing to “teach to the test” for the sake of maintaining government funding. In addition, the modernist mentality of “all success must be measurable” can be limiting in evaluating what a student has learned and not just what he or she can regurgitate. Indeed, test scores can be a helpful measure of past and/or current realities, but they are often poor predictors of true success.
Here are just a few things that testing does not help us evaluate about a student’s experience across a school year:
– Leadership potential and growth
– Enjoyment of spontaneous creativity
– Value of actively engaging with community
– Risk-taking and innovation
– Empathy and compassion
– Ability to ask deep questions
– Reception of constructive criticism
– Integrity and humility
– Desire for truth, goodness, and beauty
– Collaboration with others
– Overall love of learning
The list could go on and on, but the point is this: testing provides some insight into a student’s academic experience, but not all of it.
Of course, on the flip side of the testing question is the concern that children shouldn’t be made to test for reasons of pressure creating or contributing to existing test anxiety. Some argue that standardized testing (and its results, particularly if they’re not what the parent hoped for) might work against a child’s self-esteem and confidence and therefore should not be used.
To that I say this: we must not forget that the only real way students build confidence is to attempt, struggle through, and overcome challenges before them. The lie is that education is easy; the truth is that learning – or at least the kind which goes beyond mere regurgitation of information and shapes character formation – is difficult. When it comes to helping our students deal with testing anxieties, the key for us as parents is not to over-emphasize perfect test results, but to help students shoot for improved ones, praising the effort involved to do so.
Our goal should be to help students lean into and learn to stand up under stress rather than run away or hide from it. Stress is both a part of life and an important formation tool God uses in the lives of people (think of all the stress He intentionally brought upon those He chose to use in the Bible). We should help students respond with faithfulness as they take hold of the task at hand, for as James 1 speaks specifically to spiritual growth, the principle applies to growth that is of an educational nature as well.
So we test our Grammar and Logic School students and take seriously the results. But we try to help them – and you, our parents – understand that the ultimate goal of assessment is not to pass the test and then fail life.
That would just not be very smart at all.