Monday, May 05, 2008

Annual Tests

In the state of Washington, homeschoolers are required to test annually. That sounds fine to me, actually, but for even the most strident, privacy-loving homeschoolers, the WA state law is pretty relaxed about it. You do not have to test until your child is 8 and entering third grade, the test can be a test of your choosing as long as it is proctored by someone approved by the state, and the results are sent to you the parent, alone. You do not have to provide scores to the state, just the evidence that you did take the test.

At this point, though, neither of my school-aged children fall into that category. As young as they are, they don't have to sit for testing yet. However, we submitted to it anyway this year-- for both of them-- because we are participating in a virtual academy. Up until this point I have been perfectly happy to sit that fence. I have no qualms at all identifying myself as a homeschooler, because what we do and how we do it has not been altered one iota since accepting this new arrangement. However, I do enjoy the increased funding--that has been a boon to say the least. In fact, the funding has allowed me to experiment with different things that I would not have even tried before having the disposable cash to purchase materials new. As a result the children have benefited and there is no denying that in my house.

But we sat for these tests this morning and I regret it. I regret it to my core. Because they are the straight-up, ridiculous, teaching-for-the-test kind of bullshit that happens when you get too many education experts in a room and they have to justify their higher degrees. The tests were a test of the education system, not of the students. Even the teachers can't score them, they have to wait for the results to go through an algorithm on an off-site computer before they can even tell you what is going on. And for the first time in my children's lives, they felt like they failed something. It was ridiculous.

Why? Because apparently the MAP test is scored based on how the student information looks after she has missed 50 percent of the questions. What that means to a kid who is getting the stuff right is that your "20 minute" test takes a hell of a lot longer. And the kid KNOWS she's screwing it up. How is that possibly conducive to a pleasant and affirming educational experience?

I hesitated posting this here in my blog because even I am thinking "you should have known better than to trust them, this is what public schools do." From Montessori to Unschooling, tests and placing any stock in them is well outside my worldview, and my children's. Yet, it is part of our journey and I want it out there so maybe someone else can benefit from the experience. What follows is my dialog with our contact teacher at the virtual academy.

Dear Teacherperson,
When we began the school year, I had no intention of having my children test. We were going to drop down to homeschool enrollment and handle it that way. As we progressed, and as per CVA guidelines I began to pay attention to the children's progress, I found myself looking forward to the testing process. "Bring it ON!" I thought. The kids have grown and changed so much this year; their confidence and skills have really come to light. I was and remain proud of them and the work we have done here.
My children sat for the MAP this morning and I have to say, we're all a bit deflated. The tests for K and 2 focused on some odd things, I thought. I've been teaching my daughter to read, not to count syllables. I am not kidding, her personal test seemed to focus intensively on counting syllables. I know what books she is reading, because I listen to her while she does it, or we talk about their content when she's done reading alone. The girl can read and write, but this test won't display that.
My kindy son's went from simple kindy math to "here's a math 'sentence,' now which would be the wrong way to solve it?" That alone irritated me, but then the samples for him to choose from had little or nothing to do with math. It was testing him not on calculation or even on reasoning, but on methods other teachers / school use to teach children math. He felt bowled over and distressed. He felt like he couldn't do math, and I know that is so not the case. I felt gut-punched and a little betrayed. My child has never cried over "school" work, ever. And he cried today because I felt I had to make him sit and finish this thing out. By the end, my 5 year old was just throwing it; He went from sobbing because he so wanted to "get it right" to just clicking on random pictures to just have it be over.
Not one question on either test asked about culture, history, music, art or science. There was nothing of any substance. No reading comprehension (past a few advertisements), spelling or sequencing at all.
I have been mollified by CVA for months that this is just a "marker" and a "place to begin tracking progress." I bought it and even sold it to my kids, that it would be fun and to not worry about it, that this would be just a little longer version of the things they already do. But what exactly are they supposed to be progressing in? This didn't actually test their math or language skills, and it surely didn't allow for any demonstration of knowledge or skill beyond that.
If we don't have an alternate method of demonstrating the children's knowledge next year, (and don't even mention WASL), then I don't know that we will be staying on board with CVA.

She replied very quickly, which I appreciated, and cc'd the principals of the academy:

Hi ~L~,
I really appreciate you talking with me first before going to the Beta site. My heart goes out to your kids and to you. Remember, this is just a snapshot and one style of assessment that does not work for all students. Next year we can look at some different types of assessment so this experience is not repeated for G and N.

The unique aspect of the MAP is kids get 50% of the questions correct and 50% incorrect which can be hard for little ones to deal with. This is supposed to help the test align with the kids skills so that we get an accurate reading of where they are. I should have your test results by next Monday. Regardless of what the results show, we both know how much your children have progressed and grown this year. I'm so happy you are proud of your kids, I am too! Please give G and N a great BIG hug from me and tell the how proud I am of them for getting through the MAP and that they are such smart cookies!!

What does your Wednesday look like? I have meetings from 2:30 until the end of the day tomorrow but at this point Wednesday is wide open.

Sorry to keep this short but please know that I am on your side and will do everything I can to help you and the kids.

So that's where I am. As usual, I have no problem with our contact teacher, as she truly has worked with us to translate our eclectic style into public school acceptability. I have taken many tests over the years as a student, and I was one of the children who test very well. I relished finding the "tricks" in the questions, and rarely wore of it. Today, however, I saw a test unlike anything I'd ever seen. It was sucky for my daughter, who gave it the college try and was rewarded with an hour and a half test for her troubles, and it was sucky for my son, who may as well not have taken the thing. He's the one I feel so bad for. He's the one I feel I have failed. He's so, so little, and to hear him say "I just can't do math," about killed me when that is really something he's so enjoyed. They just didn't bother testing him on it, and said they did.

A number of other parents are objecting to the MAP:

May 2008

The children's advisory teacher called us while we were on vacation in Charleston. Both children scored as "very high" on the tests, both in the 90s, with Nick scoring in the 99th percentiles on both math and language. I am unmoved to feel any differently about the test.


  1. Everyone I've talked to that did the MAP test this year feels the same way about it. It's awful. My understanding was that, as CVAers, we could use any test we wanted, but that if we don't use the MAP test we have to pay for the test that we use. I'm hoping this is true. I know I don't want to use the MAP test for my kids, but I also don't want to lose the opportunities that CVA gives us.

  2. I followed your comment on my blog about the MAP test. It is a hard test to take with the whole missing 1/2 the questions thing. I understand why it is done that way but it doesn't make it easier on the kids, does it?

    I do know that you can chose to use a different assessment test so long as you chose one that is recognized by the state. I know that the Family Learning Organization in Spokane ( offers homeschool parents the CAT-5 and you can administer it yourself at home before returning it to them to be scored. You can scan and email your teacher the results sheet that you get back. You can also submit the receipt for reimbursement. I know this because I tested my kids in October this way for grade level advancement.

    I hope you find a good solution.

  3. So, sorry they had to go threw this. That is soo horable. I hope u can fined another way to make it work. And thank u for sharing it. I am very awair Trevor will have to test next year and have been leary of the MAP. Now I know to look into alternatives. Thanks.