Why I don't test or grade my children

Just when I'm about to sit down and write a really interesting update on the puppy because I seriously can't think of anything else to write, I had not one, but two items that will make great blog fodder land in my inbox.  You are saved from endless puppy drivel. This time.

And you just don't even know what else you escape here by my careful screening of my inbox. There are all sorts of companies and individuals who are all ready to allow me to offer their product on my blog. Usually I just hit delete without a second glance, but the one which appeared today gave me an idea of what to write about. This email was wanting me to share a new business which offers free, ready-to-repurpose test questions. (Their phrase, not mine, though it does sound a bit tongue-in-cheek.) The email writer thought that homeschoolers would be particularly interested in this opportunity.

It made me realize that when you are marketing something to someone, or especially want that someone to market something for you, you really need to know your audience. You see, while I may have hinted at it here and there, I'm not sure I have ever come right out and said that we don't grade or test. I know that this may seem pretty radical to some of you, especially because we now live in such a test-crazy society.

First you have to think of what the purpose of tests and grades is. Really it is just a way to communicate how a student did in a class or how well a student learned a certain body of information. I know people like to say that grades and tests motivate students to do well and learn, and perhaps in a small way they do, but not for the reasons people would think. The students are motivated by earning the reward and not by the actual learning. This was made clear when M. had the interesting argument discussion in a class last year about whether students should be graded or not. (And in looking for this post, I realize I have discussed this topic before... sorry for the rerun.) M. held that she would learn regardless of grades and the student taking the opposing side admitted that without grades he wouldn't bother.

Once you have come to this conclusion, it is a simple jump to feeling as though you don't need them. I teach (or supervise while they teach themselves, depending on the child) my children and know quite well what they do and do not know. I watch them do the math problems, I hear them read, I listen as they discuss ideas and other things they've learned. I also see them using these skills in real world situations. That is the real test, in my opinion. Sure a person may be able to do a page of multiplying and dividing fractions, but if that child can't double or reduce a recipe (which is often all fractions), it shows me that child doesn't really understand what they are doing. Life if full of real-life tests that demonstrate understanding. Why would I create artificial ones?

As far as grades for coursework, once again I don't really need them. There's no reason to send a report card to myself. There is the whole high school transcript question, but that seems relatively simple as well. The goal of a transcript is once again communication. It is the school (or me) communicating to another school what a student accomplished and what a student learned. (At least that's its stated purpose, I actually don't believe a grade can say how much a student did or did not learn. Grading is too subjective.) If that's its purpose, then I can put grades in the transcript which reflect my students effort and ability and give the school what they are looking for. If my child worked diligently and he or she ended up being somewhat masterful of the subject in question, then I gave them an 'A'. Less effort or less mastery would be a 'B'. Anything less than a 'B' and I wouldn't give the student credit for a class because in my mind they didn't work hard enough or learn enough for it even to count.

Back to the email I received today. This is why I find the idea of someone writing test questions to be so pointless and pretty ludicrous. Even if I thought tests had a place, I would want to be the one to write them. Who else would know what my children should be tested on? All that would happen is that we would all become focused on the test and start to base our learning on that instead of the other way around. Talk about something that was supposed to gauge learning getting in the way of it. So, no, dear enquirer in my inbox, I will not be supporting your efforts to promote your product. What the homeschooling world does not need are more people marketing yet more unneeded products to us.

As a last note, I feel I can't leave this topic without addressing the "big" tests... the SAT and all of those. Yes, my children take them before they apply to college, but we don't spend a lot of money or a lot of time on them. Much of the key to taking these tests is to know how to take them, so that is what we focus on, test-taking strategies. Once again, I don't feel that one test score is able to sum up my child, and as such we don't focus on it. I do want them to do their best, and help them to that end, but that's all. There's no need to subject my child to wasting their time taking multiple times and certainly no point to starting young. It's just not worth that much time and effort.
I will do a little advertising in that I'm sharing my pastor's blog. He has written some really interesting posts recently that I think are worth reading. Head to his blog, Your Pastor, and check it out.


Susanna said…
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Shonya said…
Validation of my own opinions are always so nice to read. ;)

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