Standardized Tests: Psst . . . Your Agenda is Showing

My kids are homeschooled. The reasons I began homeschooling are various and ignoble and you can read more about them here. But not a year goes by when I don't find another big reason to like it.

The most recent came as I was administering the Terra Nova standardized tests to my kids this year. In California, private homeschoolers (that is, those not attached to a public homeschool charter school) are not required to take standardized tests. But our curriculum provider (Mother of Divine Grace) recommends it, and I have found the tests to be a useful tool at the end of each year for me as a teacher to see the areas in which my students are having difficulty, which has sometimes come as a surprise. I'm then able to focus on weak areas a bit over the summer. Alternately, I've had a student do quite well in a subject *I* had thought that he had struggled with during the year. And it's nice to get to see the progress they make from year to year. (The children never see or hear about their test results. That information is useful only to grownups.)

I am the proctor of the tests, so it's also an interesting window for me into what they're teaching the kids in "regular" school. (Since most school curriculums are geared towards preparing the kids to do well on these tests.) I've seen the younger grade tests a few times now and there are some predictably silly questions on there, like which of these items can be recycled? Or which of these things is pollution? Or something about how teachers are the super duperest people in the community. Fine. Do I think those are foundational concepts that are integrally important to the knowledge base of second graders? No. But we DO recycle. And I AM against old car batteries in meadows. And all the teachers I know are lovely people.

But this one, from the fourth grade test, really bugged me:

The most important reason to car-pool is to
o save money on gas
o make cars last longer
o cause less air pollution
o get to work faster

I'm assuming they want the air pollution answer but seriously, I don't know the answer because: what a nonsensically worded question. The "most important reason" is obviously going to depend on each particular person's particular situation. If you have a limited income, one of the first two reasons would probably be most important to you. If you're a guy with a ponytail, perhaps the third choice is going to be most important to you. If you're like my husband, you're driving around LA in the type of car that usually has an Obama sticker on it because it means you can get in the carpool lane and get home an hour earlier to see your kids before they're asleep for the night. He thinks that's most important. But, "NO CHILDREN, do let the good folks at McGraw-Hill tell you what you think is important." It's not logical and it's not impartial and it's not a good question. And this is what they are teaching our kids . . .

"Truth" is subjective, but "importance" is mandated by the government.

And then . . . there's this . . .

One of the questions in the reading comprehension (I think) section of Jack's test featured a black and white drawing done by a child in China, "to show her concerns for the future of the environment." It's basically an imagined dystopian future with looming pencil-drawn buildings everywhere, and some people in the middle surrounding a solitary tree . . . a tree under a glass dome. It won a contest sponsored by the United Nations.

Jack was supposed to look at the drawing and answer some predictably biased questions about whether he should be concerned about this happening to him. (I'm pretty sure they think he should be.)

And THAT is what the people who are in charge of assessing the basic knowledge-level of this country's fifth graders want our children to think about the world.

Forget the gross human rights violations, forget the systematic religious persecution, forget all the evidence of what happens to the economies and social structures of countries whose birth rates fall as precipitously as have China's, no, we need our fifth graders to focus on whether China has enough downtown trees.

And if my fifth grader took this test at a school, would I have heard about it?

But I did hear about it. Because I was sitting in the seat next to him. At our dining room table. He couldn't wait for me to see it, because he has learned to be a discerning reader and look for agendas. I am so grateful that we are able to homeschool and share moments like this that we can turn into big picture learning opportunities. And have a laugh at those poor saps who write these tests. Together.