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I can only complain about standardized testing so many times before the steam runs out. Therefore, I feel no shame in straying a little from my predetermined subtopic. I am still following the same theme of “promoting intellectual curiosity” though, so fear not. The subject today: home schooling.

My inspiration comes from a high school-aged friend of mine who recently made the switch from public schooling to home schooling. Instead of attending a monopolizing seven hours of school a day, she simply collects her assignments from her teachers and completes them at her own rate. Without having to attend her classes, much of her time is freed up. How that time is spent is her own choice.

In my experience, the majority of people have a somewhat negative view of home schooling. It is a common belief that while home schooled children often excel in academics, their social skills are lacking. This assumption is understandable, considering home schooled children have less opportunity for socialization with peers. . . or do they? According to an article I found through Google News,

“Many families today are active in home school groups, such as the Britt Home School Group, where the children meet for several hours each week or every other weeks for a shared class, art, music or a special party or field trip.”

With these opportunities, students are probably allowed more time befriending others than is allotted at public schools, of which rigorous academic schedules leave little room for socializing.

The benefits of home schooling are practically boundless. As mentioned before, children who are home schooled often do not have to devote as much time to school. Aside from that, they are forced to learn how to prioritize their tasks, how to motivate themselves, and how to learn directly from a source, such as a book or computer. All of these are essential life skills, but they are often unlearned until after high school. It seems as though home schoolers have a leg up on the competition.

As of 1990, a study done showed that test scores from home schoolers easily met the 80th percentile, according to this website.

I hold home schooling in high esteem. I used to have a pretty distorted view of it, and I wish that I had been more informed about it when I was actually in school. If I had known the details, it probably would have been an option I would seriously have considered. It would have freed up more time for me to learn about what I want to learn about, rather than what information is imposed on me. If there is one thing about school that has left me most distraught, it is the idea that my teachers assigned me books enough to deprive me of any opportunity to read out of pleasure. If I had been home schooled, l also may have had the illusion that learning was a choice. Even if I had a set curriculum, I would have been able to expand upon the ideas that most interested me. And that, my friends, is what I mean by “Intellectual Curiosity”. I put a heavy emphasis on it because many people learn only what they must. Society would be a lot better off we could feed the fire of intellect, if we could teach people how to teach themselves simply by following up on what interests them. As corny as it is, even if that idea touches only a few people, it will be worth it, because in turn, those people will effect others and, indirectly, the whole world will change simply by a chain reaction. I truly believe in the idea that knowledge is power. When you think of it that way, a teacher becomes a sort of superhero, saving the world one homework assignment at a time.

Home Schooled Students Excel in Life, Academic
by Mary Loden
The Britt News Tribune
14 October, 2008
Full Article

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ACT: A Crappy Test

Finally, someone is thinking clearly! According to the International Herald Tribune, a highly influential commission is debating the significance of the SAT and ACT in determining student acceptance to colleges. Some colleges have already made standardized tests optional; hopefully more will follow suit. It looks as though, after doing research for the past year, people are finally getting the hint that standardized test scores do not determine a student’s ability. William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, is heading the study.

Fitzsimmons said that at Harvard, high school grades and individual subject tests are considered better predictors of college success than the SAT or ACT, and that the university is studying the use of standardized tests in its admissions. He added that it was possible that the university may eventually make those tests optional.

Just think of the benefits this could have! Rather than forcing students to obsess over these ridiculous tests, they will have the opportunity to really focus their energy on their classes.  Think of the countless hours that students have devoted to these silly assessments.

I can’t speak for the SAT, but I took the ACT twice when I was a junior. The first time might as well have been practice. I did well, but the anxiety I faced overwhelmed me, and I felt that if I were to retake it, I could get a higher score. I did, technically. One point higher for the general test, that is. The inconsistency in the tests flustered me, though. I did very well on the English portion of both tests. My writing score, however, went from a 7 to a perfect 12. I’m sure you realize, that is quite a difference! I’m not bragging about my writing ability by pointing out my score. I’m actually making a statement about how ridiculous these tests are. Why did I get a 7 the first time around? I took about five minutes to brainstorm before beginning to write. With thirty minutes to write, the time I took to brainstorm left me conclusion-less. I learned from my mistake the second time around. My pencil scribbled non-stop for 30 minutes and eventually landed me a perfect writing score. What kind of a message does that send to a student? Talk about promoting a bare minimum effort. My mindless banter produced a better score than my thoughtful attempt at a carefully constructed essay.

The second reason I so loathed the ACT was this: I in the advanced math classes in my high school. I found that the math portion of the ACT covered material I had not been familiar with for quite some time. Math does not stay fresh in my mind if I have not been practicing it. I get rusty. My ACT scores reflected this intellectual rust.

Another reason for my bitterness toward the ACT is based upon the inconsistency I saw in the multiple choice questions. The second time I took the test, the questions were much more difficult than my previous attempt. The readings were much harder to interpret! It hardly seemed fair. If the test scores I received personally fluctuated so violently, I have to wonder how accurate an indicator the test is for measuring students against one another.

My final grudge against the ACT is this: if I had scored one point, ONE POINT higher on the test, I could have been eligible for thousands of dollars more in scholarships from my school. I didn’t become aware of the fact until I had already missed the deadline to retake the test. I feel as though I have been robbed by the ACT. And to think: after this, I still have it better than a lot of students. I did fairly well and thus was accepted into my first choice college. Some people are not quite as fortunate.

U.S. Colleges Are Urged to Drop Reliance on SAT and ACT
by International Herald Tribune
22 September, 2008
Full Article

Nothing stifles creativity in a classroom like standardized tests; unfortunately, if the Bloomberg administration gets its way, even kindergarten teachers may be forced to succumb to the pressures brought on by standardized test preparation. According to an article on the New York Times website, the administration is encouraging public schools to test their younger elementary aged children in Math and English in order to ensure that schools are effectively teaching. The article goes on to say:

“In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Liebman stressed that the pilot program was voluntary — he said 50 of the city’s 700-some elementary principals had already expressed interest — and that the tests were not high-stakes. They would not, for example, determine whether students moved to the next grade, as is the case with older children.”

This all seems pretty harmless, especially considering the test will not determine whether a child will pass or not. While I agree that it is necessary to measure children’s learning abilities, my outlook on enforcing standardized tests for young children is not optimistic. As an aunt to four boys, the eldest of which are in elementary school, I hate the thought of putting that stress on the youngsters. Children of a certain age have to absorb mass amounts of information; they should not be expected to catch on to everything simultaneously. They need time to adjust.

My sister has told me that last year my oldest nephew, Tyler, who was in first grade at the time, usually came home from school worried about his performance, which is based on a grading system. When I was in elementary school, I never received a grade. My teachers doled out check marks for completing the necessary requirements, but no student was ever told ranked by ability. I was happy as a clam in elementary school. I enjoyed learning. I was eager to offer answers to my teachers, and to learn more so that I could eventually outsmart my peers. In fact, I cannot remember being bored in school until the fourth grade. It just so happens that fourth grade was the year we started being graded. Maybe it is just a coincidence. But it is no coincidence that I never felt pressured by school until grading took effect. Learning felt like a privilege until that point. After that, it felt like an obligation. I think standardized testing could have that same effect on children that incorporating letter grading does. They might start to feel pressured to perform at a certain level rather than thinking the simple act of trying is good enough. That is my take on it least. I think elementary school should be care-free.

The New York Times shares a valid argument made by James S. Liebman, a mastermind behind the Education Department in New York, in saying,

“Mr. Liebman also pointed out that kindergartners and first and second graders are already evaluated by their teachers. Most schools use a system called the Early Childhood Literacy Assessment System, which takes teachers a long time to administer because they must meet with every child individually.”

My stance? Meeting with children individually may be more time consuming, but it must be done. A standardized test might reveal a child’s educational weaknesses, but it will not explain the reasons behind those weaknesses. Children are fragile. We need to be careful with the burdens we place on their tiny shoulders.

A Plan to Test the City’s Youngest Pupil
by New York Times Education New
August 26, 2008

Having endured a long thirteen years of required schooling, I feel like I have earned the right to say that education is not what it should be. On a lighter note, I can say that I learned more than what was necessary for my educators to teach me. For example, I learned quickly that many teachers aren’t cut out for the job, but that doesn’t stop them from barely trying. I also learned that even the most creative teachers are usually uninspired by lesson plans that revolve around standardized testing. Also among my lessons: a student can barely try and still succeed. (This is a lesson I’m recovering from in college. It’s a hard habit to break.)

As you can tell, my view of education is pretty dim. But alas, I’ve chosen to enroll myself in a university, so I must have some faith in the system. Here is what it comes down to: I love the freedom that college promotes. I can choose what classes I want to take. I am encouraged to wander out of my safe zone, whereas in high school, we had strict guidelines we were “encouraged” to follow. (Although, I will say I do believe this is because the more time that I waste, the more money the college will make off of me.) In high school, I never strayed from the recommended curriculum. I took four years of English and math, three years of Spanish, three years of social studies, three years of science. I hardly took the classes that actually interested me. Looking back, I would say the thing I regret most about my class choice is neglecting the opportunity to take art. I felt that because I was in choir, colleges would look down on me if I was enrolled in two “blow off” classes. I never would have taken an art class as an opportunity to slack, though. I genuinely wanted to learn how to create art. I missed my chance, though, and all because of the restraints I felt were imposed on me.

That’s the thing about high school: any free will that a child is afforded is discouraged. I found it difficult to really take advantage of my education when there were so many guidelines. It all seemed pretty pointless to me. So I’m here to stick it to the man. I realize that when I’m a teacher someday, certain things will be expected of me. I will meet those requirements, but I fully plan on implementing lessons that really light a fire for students. I chose my blog title (Make it EPIC) based on the goal of encouraging students to take learning into their own hands. My current classes inspire me to the point that I walk away with mental lists of everything I want to learn about that is beyond what is required of me. I can hardly keep up! Learning has become exciting. It has become an adventure. It has become mine. I hope to teach high school students this concept someday.

In the meantime, I will be griping about one of many issues that I believe stifles this enthusiasm toward learning: the dreaded standardized testing. It seems as though teachers do not have enough time anymore to teach about the things that really matter because they must conform to the limits of standardized tests. This is a blow to intellectual curiosity of both teachers and students.

I realize that standardized tests have their perks. Schools can get more money if their students are performing better. But what kind of system is that? Shouldn’t the role of an educator be to teach a child so that the child may excel, rather than to teach the child so that the school might? It all seems pretty twisted to me. I am aware that schools also need to make sure students are measuring up to their peers. If that were the sole reason for giving students standardized tests, I would be much more sympathetic. That’s not the case though.

To continue my case against standardized testing, I will staying up-to-date on news related to the issue. I have subscribed to several RSS feeds, which as as follows:

The Washington Post (education section only)
New York Times (education section only)
Google News Query: Standardized Testing
Academic Search Premier

Feel free to rant and rave along with me! This is only my first of many. Now tell me how YOU feel.