Wednesday, December 31, 2014

math and testing

We finished most of the algebra program I was doing with Chana (I skipped the last two parts because I don't think they are on the regents) and I bought a pamphlet of tests for us to work on.  I may have mentioned that Chana has only taken about 5 tests in her life.  I used to test Sarah every year, but when Chana veered more towards unschooling (not reading much between kindergarten and 4th grade, or not doing math between 4th and 7th grade) it didn't make sense to test, especially when NYS homeschool laws, despite being just about the strictest in the country, are designed to give flexibility to unschooling as a legitimate educational approach.

So from October to January in 7th grade, Chana learned fractions, positive and negative integers, percents, etc.  Then we started algebra.  That took us a little under a year to cover, and now I figured we'll take from January to May to study for the regents.  Since she has to learn how to take the test.  Plus there are gaps in what she learned and what is on the common core algebra regents.

So far we've done 5 questions in 3 days.  I have to explain to her what the question means, and show her that she already knows how to do the math.  (Some questions cover topics that have nothing to do with algebra, like quartiles, which is statistics.)  She has to learn the testing lingo.  Today she was practically in tears.  There was a problem that I thought was pretty straightforward, but she thought it was overwhelming.

But that's why I've set aside a few months to help her get used to it.

But now that I'm thinking about chemistry and geometry for next year, I have the luxury of thinking about how to learn it so that she understands it for its own sake, to enjoy it, and to not be bound by any type of testing.  I still think it is valuable for her to learn how to take this test, but I don't think it's as valuable as people think it is.

Tests notoriously:

  • cause students to mainly focus on learning for the test
  • lead students to ignore deeper understanding in favor of what will help them succeed on a test
  • create an artificial timeline of learning and "covering" material that will be on the test
  • stop students from concentrating on true understanding, and motivate cramming information for short term and then forgetting it within 24 hours
  • encourage learning to take the test rather than learning the actual material
  • don't accurately indicate the level of mastery for people who are poor test takers
  • cause anxiety or an overfocus on what will be on the test and distract them from true learning

I was going to spend some time reviewing Hebrew grammar with Chana for the scholarship test for high school on Sunday.  But now I'm wondering if she should take the test.  I do not think that her performance on this test will be an accurate representation of her knowledge, her abilities, and her skills.  And if Problem #5 in the algebra review booklet is any indication, the questions might cause her pain and stress.  To what end?

I thought it would give her a sense of what types of things a 9th grader knows.  But I remember that Sarah failed just about all of the first couple of tests in many subjects in 9th grade.  She had to learn how to take notes, how to study, how to memorize, and focus on things that weren't interesting.  If Chana is so unfamiliar with the test taking culture, how will this test be a positive experience or have any benefit?

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