(an excerpt from my book, POOR CHEATED LITTLE JOHNNY, soon to be released.)
Tests are a form of evaluation. I believe that the problem testing was trying to solve was to find some way to know how far the student had progressed. It is absolutely the case that we will need some method to assess whether or not our children are actually learning something, and ideally the something specific that they are supposedly studying. This is a problem built into the very nature of education. I think tests were meant to answer the question “are we succeeding?”
That is more than a fair question. It’s a critical question, one that impacts each and every decision we make as educators. Is this curriculum involving and exciting my child? If so, we’ll continue. If not, back to the drawing board. How do we know if the curriculum we are providing is working? Currently, ostensibly, we know through testing.
Today, as testing is seen as the most important tool in the educator’s arsenal and is used for evaluation, bad test scores equal failure. (Of course, educators almost always pin that failure on the child and not on their own efforts.)
How to fix testing? (Rather than “how to fix a test”, which is another subject altogether…)
First, I propose to you that we currently use testing for entirely the wrong purpose. We test in order to “evaluate progress”. And we test so that we can issue a grade.
But progress comes in many shapes and sizes. There are students who ace tests simply because they have a certain skill set. They can cram and memorize what they need for short-term success in a test. These students should be given an A+ for those particular skills. Memorization – A+. Cramming Ability – A+. (I’m being facetious.)
Other students have poor skills in these areas, and so do not do as well in testing. We should give them a lower grade for these skills. memorization – C. Cramming – C-. (Kidding, just kidding.)
But then this kind of testing has nothing to do with a true and accurate evaluation of what the student has learned. All we really should be interested in is: Did Little Johnny understand what he studied? Can Little Johnny use what he learned in some way that makes his life, and/or the lives of those around Johnny better? What did Johnny not understand? What specific materials were not grasped or evaluated by Johnny?
Currently, of course, such discovery is not the purpose of testing. I am suggesting that we reform this tool. We will need to reshape it, and I believe in a specific manner.
What should a test be like to be a helpful educational tool? Well, that depends on the subject and the importances contained in that subject. It also depends on Little Johnny’s reasons for studying that subject. Let’s get specific.
Say Little Johnny is studying the American Civil War. Is it really important that he recall the dates? The date that Gettysburg happened, say? Do you recall that date? How about the date that Lincoln was killed? Let me ask three questions. First – do you recall those dates? (I know for 99.99% of you, you don’t, and don’t cram for the test, please, just answer the question! That’s it, time’s up, you fail!) Second – should you recall those dates? Third – What should you recall about these events?
Now we’re into importances. I know the answer to the first question – do you recall the dates? You don’t. Why not? IT’S not important, not to you or anyone other than a historian or a student placing an event on the timeline of history, and that can be approximate rather than earth-shatteringly specific, in order to generate a sufficient understanding.
The dates do not generally have an impact on your life. They do not change your life in any way. But these events and their significance do have an impact on your life, particularly if you happen to be an American. And what precisely is that impact? (Here’s the important part.)
THE IMPORTANCE OF ANYTHING THAT ONE STUDIES CAN ONLY BE SUCCESSFULLY DETERMINED BY THE STUDENT.
Which also means that THE IMPACT THAT A STUDENT’S STUDIES WILL HAVE ON THE STUDENT’S LIFE CAN ONLY BE DEVELOPED AND DETERMINED BY THE STUDENT.
Only Little Johnny is living Little Johnny’s life. I’m not living his life, and neither are you (unless you are Little Johnny, in which case I’d say: “Hi. How’s it going?” Only I’d be afraid to hear the real answer.)
Only Little Johnny can look at a piece of information being provided him as a part of his “education” and decide that it is or will be important to him. What’s more, as Little Johnny is the “end user” of his education, only Little Johnny will decide if he wishes to use or recall that information at all. It does not matter how urgently we demand that Little Johnny pay attention, that Little Johnny understand just how important this particular fact or lesson is. He will decide what he wants to care about.
Little Johnny is the end user of his education.
As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.
But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.
In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.
CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)
Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.
Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.
Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.
Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.
Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.
For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.
We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!