Tuesday, April 14, 2015

the results of ITBS

A few weeks ago the boys took ITBS test, also known as Iowa. It is a standardized normed test, just the kind that the state requires to be administered every three years. 11 yo (yes, we had a Pesach birthday!) took this test before, both in school setting and then in 3rd grade. He tested well, his results were good to exceptional, and it was no big deal, even though he was taking it the week after I had 2 yo and the house was topsy-turvy.

9 yo (yes, he also had a Pesach birhtday!) is known not to test well. He has never done a test like this. He hates being put on the spot, his anxiety revs up, he freezes or tantrums. His previous assessments were the psychological profile where he refused to cooperate on the section that required writing, and the testing done for the local day school, where, again, he got teary-eyed, dropped to the floor, and did not do well. Based on those two assessments, I was told that he has anxiety, a possible writing disorder, difficulty adjusting to the classroom, need for medication and shadow. In short, beyond my personal qualms, I had external reasons to worry about how the testing would go.

I knew that 9 yo has to get tested this year. I spoke to other homeschool parents and was told about different normed tests that are out there that would qualify. However, after much thought and mulling it over with my husband, we decided to stick with ITBS. It is a well-recognized test, and it is widely administered. Moreover, while I do not want to call it "objective", few schools would dispute its results. In our state, the results are not submitted anywhere, and nothing really hinges on them, so we decided to risk it, and see what we will get.

As the preparation for the test, I ordered Spectrum Test Taking Skills booklets, so the boys would get a bit of practice with multiple choice, timed sections, and general examples of the questions to be expected. Total expenditure (besides time) was $20. Predictably, 11 yo had no trouble with his booklet, and 9 yo was less than eager about his. I did a bit of test prep with them every day, but we did not get to finish before the test rolled in. Also, the booklet had just English and math sections; ITBS also tests social studies and science. I chose not to tell 9 yo about those sections, since we have not done any formal learning in those areas.

The testing itself was administered by another homeschool group, and took place over three days. It helped that there were a few other familiar faces taking the test. None of the kids enjoyed it, although 11 yo was more optimistic in his assessment of how it went compared to 9 yo. What was done, was done, and I settled in to wait for the results.


I got the results this week.

Both boys did well. Ridiculously well. Exceptionally well, Off-the-charts well in some areas. The only area where they did on an average level was math computation, but they both did so well in other math sections, that the total was still quite high.

I am not posting this to boast. I will not go into details of raw scores and percentile ranks and grade equivalents. I am posting this to validate the ability of kids to spend most of their time outside of traditional worksheets learning, and then outscore their peers who are wasting away behind those worksheets. I am posting this as a validation of unschooling. When we saw those average results in computation, I told my husband: is it because we did not spend enough time on practice? Or is it that the only subject where we stuck to a traditional curriculum (math) is the only subject which is hindering our kids' learning? Maybe they need fewer of those math pages, fewer drills, and their results would improve?

It is possible that my kids are really geniuses. It is possible that an average American kid taking ITBS is not so smart. It is possible that this is just luck of the draw, etc. It is possible that by conducting practically one-on-one training, anyone can achieve such results. It is possible that I am such a brilliant parent who managed to put together such exceptional opportunities that my kids entered the test extremely well-prepared. I can come up with many conjectures to the results.

I do not think any of them hold water.

What I do think is that wasting childhood on test prep and traditional schoolwork is sad. I do want to march into the day school and wave 9 yo's test results in the face of the principal and say: see, my kid did this, without a shadow, without medication, and without being boxed in. Wouldn't you like to have such a brilliant student in your school, to pull up everyone else's score? Only I got to keep him at home, save all those tuition dollars and all the heartache.

I will file the test results away for now. I told the boys that they did well, that they passed, and I emphasized to 9 yo that he has nothing to worry about. As kids, unaccustomed to making a big deal out of external assessment, they shrugged and moved on. They did not see their actual test results. They do not think in terms of grades and ranks.

They think in terms of self-knowledge. Just today, 9 yo told me, out of the blue: "You know how I hate sitting down to do mishna and chumash? That's because I need to find something good to fidget with; then my hands will be busy and I will be able to sit."
"What do you want to fidget with?"
"A stuffed animal might be good. Or a pen that I can click."
He settled on a particular pen, explaining how it was not too easy to click it, and not too hard at the same time. He did fidget with it, although I'm not sure that is the object that he will ultimately choose. Fidgeting is a well-recognized distraction in situations of anxiety.What I like about this whole experience is the self-knowledge, the recognition that something can be done, something can be improved, and the search for that improvement.  No test will measure it, but the results of self-discovery will have life-long consequences.

1 comment:

  1. You're an exceptional parent and your kids are lucky to have you!