Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Logic problem

I hate standardized tests. I think they're a poor way to measure schools' effectiveness and harmful to the educational process. I think they try to quantify something that is not truly measurable in such rigid terms. I think they put pressure on teachers to teach to the test instead of teaching what students need to succeed. I think they take creativity out of the classroom and put conformity in.

Unless my child scores well, in which case they're a wonderful measuring device for proving that she's learning, she's really learning.

I especially hate standardized tests for special-needs kids, who must necessarily learn in different ways. I think they're skewed against kids for whom English is not the first language. I think they're skewed against kids who spent formative years in another culture, or in a deprived or neglectful setting. I think they make teachers fearful of inclusion, lest the teacher's effectiveness be measured by the progress of kids for whom learning is hard. I think they're a poor indicator of a child's actual ability to cope in real-life situations.

Unless my child scores well, in which case they're a true and accurate portrait of her abilities, and should be accepted by everybody as proof that she can be successful.

This year, my child scored well. Her numbers were above average in language, math, science, social studies, and total score, and I take those as proof that I was right in wresting her from self-contained special-ed and putting her in a regular-ed class with an instructional aide. Ha, that's right, I was right, right, right! Look how much she's learned in this new setting! Her scores were triple or more what they were on the same level test last year. Take that, you naysaying Child Study Team members!

Of course, her score for reading stank, actually lower than the very-low level it was at last year, but that's clearly a statistical glitch. Probably a misprint or something on the test form. Reading comprehension questions are often confusingly worded, and frequently fall into areas of knowledge that my girl doesn't possess because she spent her first 4.5 years in a Russian orphanage. Don't confuse me with low scores. Low scores are inaccurate. High scores are true and meaningful. It's parent's logic. Don't confuse me with the facts.

Facts are things that parents of special-needs kids moving through the special-ed system are bombarded with all the time. Facts and test scores, evaluations and estimations, all those formulas and numbers that attempt to sum up our children's potential. We sit in rooms full of professionals and hear that our seven-year-old is functioning as a five-year-old in this and a four-year-old in that and a three-year-old in the other. We hear that our ten-year-old is in many ways like a seven-year-old, and not the sharpest seven-year-old, either. It's horrifying to hear your child's abilities summed up in months and years, such low months and years. And so you've got to grab for the good news when it comes along, however dubious it may be.

When my son was evaluated last year upon leaving the school's pre-K program, he miraculously scored as close to his actual age level in cognitive skills. Close to his actual age level! He'd never been close to his actual age level in anything before. Height, weight, head size, motor skills, language skills--all significantly lagging, years and years behind. But damn, he thinks like a seven-year-old! High fives all around! Now, if he'd scored low, I'd have had a million excuses--doesn't test well, tester couldn't engage him, yada yada yada. But my boy scored high! He showed what he can do! That's the sort of thing to which we parents cling.

That, and positive standardized test scores. There's a million excuses for why my daughter did well and a million reasons why her doing well means nothing--after all, she's a ten-year-old scoring above average for an eight-year-old; among kids her own age, she'd be a cellar dweller for sure. She's also on her second time through second grade, so she darn well should be showing some improvement. Do her higher scores mean that a) we've finally found the right level for her, and as she follows along in her two-years-behind course she will continue to perform well; b) regular-ed teachers do a better job of prepping kids for stupid standardized tests than do special-ed teachers; c) my daughter needs two years in every grade to actually learn something; or d) coloring the bubbles in the shape of a smiley face turned out to yield the right answers this time around?

I'm choosing answer A. And if you say I'm wrong, well, tests like this are for the birds.

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