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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Teaching Outside the Test

I had another post planned for today, but I can't quite get it into words and hit publish yet. So, since I feel like I sort of poured my heart out on Monday with the post below, I've decided to go ahead and link it  up with Shell. If you haven't checked out this meme before, it's a must. The posts linked up are always some of my fave reads of the week!

I feel standardized testing is important. I believe that my children need to have strong test taking skills, and be comfortable in a testing environment. In the end, this is how they will get into college. But is it necessary for them to test every year?

Here in FL the standardized testing through the public school system is all politics. It's sad to say, but it's not about education, it's about funding. Instead of students, children are numbers. It's sickening. Although, I'm not a fan of the tests or the politics, last tear I still felt like it was important to take the test. As a homeschooling parent, taking the test each year would hold me accountable as a teacher, and I would be able to make sure my son was getting at least (if not more) than what he would in the school system.

Just FYI. As a homeschooling family in FL you have the optional right to test with your state in lieu of your year end evaluation. It's not mandatory, but last year we opted to test.

Well, after only a year plus into this homeschooling thing, I'm beginning to change my mind about standardized testing! I don't want to "teach to the test". I want my kids to learn.

Here's an example. It's a long one-hang in there with me.

A few weeks ago I switched my son's math curriculum from a traditional spiral to something a little different than what we're used to. Math-U-See. This program teaches math completely different from what he's learned in the past, and the methods used to teach are new to us as well.

I had begun to realize that my son needed something. He was struggling with a subject that has always been a strong one for him, but for some reason this year(or perhaps always-and I'm just figuring it out) he was having trouble retaining the lessons. Something wasn't clicking.

When I started noticing his struggles, I was concerned. Math has always been interesting a battle in our house. Even when he was in public school. Although it's one of his strongest subjects, he has always hated it. It's been the subject that takes hours to do even a small amount of work, and often ends up being a negative. Throughout the years we've managed, but it's always been hard.

Last year when I began homeschooling, the attitude struggles in math did not go away. His behavior definitely improved, but I could see there was still a long road ahead. We completed our curriculum, and ended the year positively. He scored extremely high, and well above grade average on the FCAT (our state standardized test that we opted to take). When we got our scores I was so relieived to know our year was a success. It was a bit of a pride issue. Everyone in my family that doesn't get why I HS can see that I can do it. I felt reassured of my abilities, my son was happy to see he had high scores too. Blah, blah, blah...
Well, no test can tell me how successful our year is! I don't need a test to help me feel secure in my role as a homeschooling mom. Yes, the year was beyond a blessing, and his scores were a huge praise, but did I need that test to reassure me?

As a first time homeschooler, I felt that I needed to still adhere to so many of the regulations of public school that had been ingrained in me and my son for 5 years. Getting those scores gave me a sense of peace about our first year.

Summer came and went.

We moved right into the year with the same traditional brand of math curriculum for the next grade up. I figured we made it through last year. We'll just give it shot again.

Around early October I noticed him struggling a great deal in this subject again. More so than usual (or again-perhaps I'm just learning to see these things more clearly). He was having trouble remembering the steps, order of operations, and overall execution of his problems. He's in 6th grade. Math is getting harder. Unless you're John Nash, it's impossible to do this stuff in your head. Pre-algebra is being introduced, fractions of every shape and size, and every operation you can think of is used in one problem. The problems are long. They take a great deal of focus and fundamental understanding of the basics to be successful at this level. I began to notice he wasn't retaining the steps and order of things.

I wondered how much he had really retained all these years passed. He's always tested very high in all subjects, but had he learned the material, or had he learned the tests?

I know my son, and know he likes to do everything in his head. He often will just provide an answer to a problem, but will be unable to tell me how he got it. The answer will be right, but he didn't master the understanding.

This has been such a problem that it's actually against our rules right now for him to just give me an answer. I need to see his steps!

Well, now I began to see he wasn't retaining the steps. No matter how many times I taught them. Now that there are so many steps to a problem-his struggles were becoming clear, and his answers were no longer right.

It was obvious that he needed to learn in a different way. Even if that means we move away from the state standardized testing and traditional material. The new curriculum I chose for him will put him on a different calendar than PS. It teaches exclusively in one area each year. So the traditional spiral lessons are out. Which means standardized testing would not be a fair judge of his ability.

For example, if I tested him this year for 6th grade, he would score lower because much of the material on the test will not be introduced to him until next year. However, as a senior he will have completed pre-calculus. He will graduate as a 12th grader with just as much, if not more math than a child in PS, but from year to year the curriculum is taught at a different pace and doesn't match up with standardized tests.

So all of this to say this...Whose standard are we teaching to?

We have to stop worrying about what the world tells us our children need. As a homeschooling mom, I know I brought my son home to give him the ability to learn in ways that are better for him, and fit his needs. Not the needs of a system we're no longer a part of! It's a strange feeling to "de-school" your mind. We learn so much of what we're supposed to do with our children from a world who considers them to be a score, a number...not your child.

Education is one of my top priorities for my children, and I plan on supplying them with everything they need to be successful in life. That doesn't mean their supply will always be mainstream.

I feel good. We've been using the new math curriculum for about 3 weeks now. My son told me last week that he "finally understands the 'why' that no one has ever been able to tell him about fractions". He said, "this makes way more sense". Now, that's better than any test score!

Do I still plan on making sure my boys have the test taking skills they need to rock the SAT or ACT? ABSOLUTELY! I just plan on supplying it my way.

I ask my Heavenly Father to lead me and guide through this journey daily, so my way really isn't mine-it's His!

Start children off on the way they should go.
~Proverbs 22:6

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At November 8, 2010 at 1:19 AM , Blogger Casey said...

I believe we require too much on standardized testing. I think a lot of teachers have gone to just teaching the test instead of actually teaching all the skills needed to actually retain the material. Now, I am not blaming the teachers I think they have no choice and it is the school district and in the end the state making the teachers teach the test. I know way too many teachers frustrated by the standardized tests out there

At November 8, 2010 at 7:41 AM , Blogger Steph said...

As a teacher, I agree with you!

I was excited to see your "non-traditional" curriculum working for your son!

I, also, struggled in math as a student growing up. In 11th grade, my algebra teacher actually said to me, "You'll never understand math because you always want to know the WHY and you can't just accept you just do the operations."

Wow, right? So, I checked out of math. Mind you I got Bs, but I was an A student so a B was tough to swallow.

When I went to college and had my math methods classes on how to teach connected for me! I understood the 'why'. I'm a better math TEACHER because I struggled as a student.

Like you, I believe that children are people, not numbers. Standardized testing as the means for funding is screwed up. Yes, teachers and schools should be held accountable for the quality of education, but this system as it is, is NOT working.

Love this post!!


At November 9, 2010 at 7:32 AM , Blogger Janet Rose said...

I have heard alot of people using Math U See for the curriculum. If we ever struggle with what we are using currently, that will be the first one we try.
It is hard to de-school ourselves. The pressures from non-homeschoolers are crazy...they randomly ask my boys questions to see if they are "educated" (I guess...not sure why, really). Go with what works for your son. God hasn't led you this far to lead you wrong.

At November 10, 2010 at 1:09 AM , Blogger The Blue Zoo said...

My son goes to public school and he also needs to learn math in a different way. Luckily the school he goes to is awesome!! And they are able to teach to him the way he needs to learn.

At November 10, 2010 at 7:35 AM , Blogger Shell said...

How exciting that this is working!

I worry about the standardized tests so much. We start with them in 3rd grade here and so much emphasis is placed on them. When I was teaching 5th grade, I had 2 students who were bored b/c they knew all the math, so I taught them 6th grade math instead. My principal found out and told me that I had to stop b/c 6th grade math isn't on the EOG, just 5th. But, if they didn't know 5th, they wouldn't be able to do 6th, so I didn't see a problem. She did. Oh, how much I disliked that woman.

At November 10, 2010 at 8:33 AM , Blogger Di said...

I was luckily just a guinea pig for the FCAT and only needed to do the HSCT to graduate and whatever tests we took before that. I always did fine on standardized tests but back then our teachers didn't have to teach to them. We had our regular lessons and also took the tests. I've never understood the emphasis on one test though! Colleges will even overlook a bad SAT or ACT score if a student has a stellar GPA yet our public schools can't do the same?

At November 10, 2010 at 9:52 AM , Blogger Sarah said...

I think standardized testing is necessary. I also think schools/teachers and districts need to be accountable in some way. But the current system of funding relying on test scores is inadequate. It is a normal discussion among parents of public school kids in my area, a consistent complaint that our kids are taught the test instead of actually learning the things they need for life. However, I don't know what we expect the teachers and schools to do. They have to get the funding and the only way to get the funding is to score hi on the standardized tests and the only way to score high enough on the standardized tests is to teach the test.... It's a losing battle right now.

At November 10, 2010 at 10:46 AM , Blogger Kim said...

I really admire people who take the effort to homeschool their kids. I liked this post and will keep reading about your progress.

At November 10, 2010 at 3:12 PM , Blogger Julie said...

I am a teacher and I totally agree with your statements.

I dislike teaching the test and the kids dislike the same thing over and over again. Studies show by the constant reviewing that they will pick up on it and remember it more. However what they don't always realize is that the kids are going to get bored and when a kid gets bored, they don't want to do anything anymore. If teaching the test were fun, I'd be for it but its not and districts just like to see the numbers.

Stopping by from Shell's PYHO :)

At November 10, 2010 at 3:46 PM , Blogger Tiffany said...

Your reason for teaching your son at home only makes me think more about homeschooling mine. My daughter who is in 2nd grade struggles with Math and even the Reading Comprehension. It irritates me that the teachers have to teach the tests and not the how to's. I didn't notice it until this year when they really start putting the pressure on the teachers for higher scores.
My daughter's teacher just yesterday was complaining to me about what the principal is expecting them to do. She LOVES her students and has continually gone to bat for them against the principal.

At December 6, 2010 at 4:40 PM , Blogger Handcrafter said...

More power to ya, hun.

I have been homeschooling my kids for over 10 yrs now, and using Math-U-See for 9. We love how it builds on previous skills and if a child is struggling with a concept you can get extra practice pages online to use until they master it. We never move on until they master it.
I was a math geek in school and have, very successfully, tutored math; from elementary to college level, for over 25 years. And I chose Math-U-See because it is designed the way that I teach math.
One year, I had an extra student (which is legal in our state)whose mother had pulled her from the public schools because they said she "was unable to learn". (They just didn't want to have her pull down the schools average test score because they "were unable to teach" her.) When she came to me, she was 8 yrs. old and performing at an early kindergarten level. She could not read or do any type of math (only knew her #s/ABCs and could sight-read 16 words like I, am, and, the etc. After 9 months of instruction based on Math-U-See and a phonics/reading program that I have used to teach young ones (both gifted and LD kids) to read for many years; she was performing at a late 2nd/early 3rd grade level in both math and reading and was accepted into a local private school.
That is, in my opinion, one of the best things about homeschooling. You can tailor the teaching/learning to what the child needs. They progress so much better when they are leaning what THEY need instead of what someone has determined that children in a given grade should be taught. You can't build on a foundation that is not there. The public school could not teach my "extra" student 2nd grade materials because she was not properly taught K/1st grade. Once she understood the K/1st grade stuff she had no problem learning the 2nd grade stuff.

At December 6, 2010 at 6:05 PM , OpenID Christie Jarvis said...

I agree with you 100%. When I first started homeschooling 11 years ago, not counting preschool of course, I made sure to do everything on "grade level" and took my kids for their annual standardized test. The year I quit was when my youngest was in kindergarten and the proctor told me that my son had marked that Daniel was in the camel's den. I asked him later where Daniel was and he answered "Lion's Den" so I asked him why he had marked Camel on the test...his answer? I like camels better...Hmmm.
Anyway, I am a MUS mom also and we go at a pace which allows them to really learn it and understand it. No need to rush through. I teach for mastery!
Be blessed!!

At December 9, 2010 at 10:15 AM , Blogger MamaFish said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. Your post was very encouraging. We switched to MUS a few years ago after a year of struggling with my daughter in math and not knowing what to do for her. It has gone much better since we switched. I have only just discovered how different their approach really is; spending a whole "year" on a topic. I wanted to give my dd extra practice in multiplication so I thought I'd just pull out a math book from another company (among my collection) and give her some pages from there. Well, they're not as advanced in multiplication as MUS, but they've covered more topics that we haven't yet. So, for extra practice, if you ever need it, I've found a neat little textbook called Practical Arithmetics by Strayer-Upton (not Ray's P.A.): If my daughter needs more practice I can just assign problems from the book. It's inexpensive and non-consumable. She has to copy the problems, which I think is good practice. Just wanted to pass that along ;)


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