Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another day, another test

AJ came home this week with scores from the NWEA MAP testing that all kids third grade and up take in the fall and spring. The MAP is a self-leveling achievement test. The students take the test on a computer and the computer adjusts the questions based on the students answers. As more and more answers are correct, the questions get harder. The tests are used for K-12, so there are a lot of levels. This is the first time AJ has had a chance to take what I'm learning is called an "off level" test, meaning there is less of a problem with hitting the test ceiling, as he did with the WISC-IV. The MAP, however, is a very different kind of test

AJ felt like the reading part of the test was hard, mainly because a lot of the questions dealt with vocabulary, which he either knew or didn't. The math he thought wasn't hard at all. On both parts of the test, he scored in the normal range for an 8th or 9th grader, or at least that's what the charts tell me. This seems wildly high to me, but when I looked at the breakdown of what subjects are covered, they seem like things he probably knows how to do. Am I overestimating what kids know? I'm not sure. I'm also not sure this really means that AJ is performing 5 or 6 grades ahead of his level. But maybe he could be. I'm not really sure.

AJ also came home last week with a brochure from the gifted coordinator about Northwestern University's Midwest Talent Search -- an opportunity for a true off-level test. For AJ's grade level, the youngest eligible grade, that means the EXPLORE test developed by ACT (for older kids, it means the SAT or ACT), which is designed to be administered to eighth graders and used as a high school entrance exam. AJ is really interested in taking it so, as he put it, "I can see what I"m up against," but I'm not so sure what the point is. There's been a lot of testing around here in the last five months. He doesn't need the scores for anything. He qualifies for every program he might need to qualify for with the scores he already has. But if he really wants to do it, should I let him?

This brings me back to my ambivalence about testing in general. I hate that I had to cave to it last year, because I feel like his test scores shouldn't matter if he's demonstrating in class that he needs extra material. But the system is so score reliant. I've been good at getting around a lot of things in the public school system, but not the reverence for test scores.

But even feeling as I do about testing, I can see how it's useful. I'm a teacher myself, and although I don't use standardized tests with my college students, I know how important some kind of systematic evaluation can be. But at what point do you cross the line into lab rat status? And does it make a difference that AJ himself is initiating this? I don't want him obsessing about scores. Am I crazy to worry about this stuff so much?


My Kids' Mom said...

No, not crazy. What are the benefits of him taking this test? Is there a program you would truly consider if he qualified? Is it just for information? Unless there is a good justification for it, I would certainly avoid it. I think you do risk AJ getting obsessed over his own numbers.

Harriet said...

That's the thing. AJ's already tested for this program. It was the very first test we did and we did it specifically to qualify for their extracurricular programs and on line curriculum, in case we needed it. We used his scores to help his case with his school, but ended up having to do a full IQ test last year for that. As far as I can tell, he'd get a certificate and we'd get some books that we can probably access some other way. So I'm thinking not. We haven't told AJ his exact numbers, just that he's doing well But he could figure it out if he wanted to. He knew his MAP numbers, because the test told him what he got when he finished and he remembers everything. But he doesn't really know what they mean. I do think AJ enjoys the challenge of testing. He likes hard questions as long as it's clear what the rules are (he HATES ambiguity). But I'm not sure that's enough.

LSM said...

Usually what the grade equivalency scores mean on those tests is that an average student in that grade would answer the questions as A.J. did on the same test. So in this case if an 8th or 9th grader took the test, they'd likely score like A. J. did. Which is a little different than knowing the same thing as a typical 8th or 9th grader would. Does that make sense? Also, I don't think you're crazy to be hesitant about more testing. The Explore is interesting in that it covers typical ACT-type questions and provides some career aptitude pieces as well, but I don't see it as particularly relevant for a 3rd grader, even a gifted one.

Jeanne said...

Walker took the NUMATS (ACT) last year and a lot of what we got out of it is offers to send him to out-of-state high schools for the gifted and summer programs at colleges (none of which he's interested in). He may take the SAT one this year, but that's for practice before the score gets recorded (next year). I don't see the sense in doing this before 8th grade unless you want all the private school offers in your mail.

I agree with you that too much attention to test scores is not a good thing.

Radcliffe said...

Well, here's another perspective on the tests issue. I WISH my son would want to take the tests and see how he measures up. He is incredibly bright, but a poor performer, both in the classroom and on standardized tests. He is utterly languishing in the classroom curriculum, and gets reprimanded for not paying attention when they're teaching easy spelling or math concepts he figured out on his own years ago. However, he doesn't seem to care enough to really try on tests, and even clearly gives teachers ornery answers rather than trying to get things right. Consequently, he doesn't qualify for gifted programs or harder work, and the cycle continues. We try to explain to his teachers that he really needs advanced curriculum to spark his interest, but they politely talk around it and don't buy it.
As a child, I discovered that standardized tests were fun and easy, and got a charge out of seeing how high a percentile I would score in. What did this gain me? For one, no fear of any test, no matter how important, just confidence that if I tried my best, I would do well. Plus all of the benefits that you do get from scoring well on tests, not the least of which is college admissions. The habits kids develop about tests now in elementary school are what we will be dealing with when they get to the SATs, LSATs, MCATs and GREs in later life.