The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (a.k.a. PSSA) tests took place earlier this month.  Remember back in grade school having to sit through a few grueling days of number 2 pencils and scantron forms every year? Maybe your experience was different, but that’s how it was where I grew up.  Things haven’t changed much from my perspective, though from what I hear there’s far more controversy over standardized testing than ever before (or maybe I just never paid attention until now).  Anyway, the PSSA is administered beginning in third grade.  Prior to third grade there’s lots of “benchmark” evaluation but the real deal of sitting at your desk for hours filling in bubbles doesn’t start til you hit third grade.

When test week started Bart came home from school and asked me first what is the PSSA, and second why doesn’t he get to take it? He asked these questions as if feeling some affront for not being chosen or allowed to participate.  Since he’s only in second grade he has to wait another year to join the PSSA club, but since he asked I was prompted to research a little more about what the test entails. To my delight some practice tests are readily available.

The thought certainly crossed my mind, would it be cruel of me to give this test to a second grader, or to give this test at all? I mean, here is a test that some consider the bane of our public educational system. It has been accused of robbing teachers of using creativity in the classroom, of forcing them to focus on test scores above all or otherwise risk losing school funding if students don’t score well.  It is the backbone of the (in)famous No Child Left Behind act signed into law in 2002 (well before my children were born).  Honestly, I have no strong opinion regarding these standardized tests aside from thinking they must be pretty boring. But I also have no experience with them beyond what you are about to read. Ask me again in a few years. 

Getting back to the practice test, I asked Bart if he wanted to try it. “Yeah sure!” was his enthusiastic response, as my guilt melted away. I appreciate that he was up for the challenge. I printed out the math section and let him get to work, with the understanding that if it was too hard he could stop, and he certainly didn’t have to finish all 40 questions.     

He plugged away for awhile, asked me to clarify a few questions, he stayed focused, and overall I’d say this experiment was a success. He answered about 25 questions before the whining commenced.  “I don’t get this!” followed by pound-pound-pound on the table. After another three minute he announced “I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s too hard and the questions don’t make sense,” and it was over.

Later we went over the questions together and I was relieved to see he got the majority of the questions right. Of course, there were plenty of answers like this:
And this:
However it was definitely useful to see what kids are expected to know by the end of third grade, as well as identify areas where Bart might need help.  The highlight of this test-taking experiment had nothing to do with math though. Check out the typo Bart found:
Nothing like being called out by a 7-year-old you standardized test masters – ha ha ha!! I know, I know, it’s just a practice test, but it does make you wonder about who makes this stuff up.  π
05/04/2011 17:46

We have STAR testing in California. If Bart lived in California he'd have taken his first test this year. We start in second grade to allow those bright and bubbly youngsters the ability to begin their self-assessment and build their test taking anxiety early. How do second graders bubble accurately you ask? They don't. Our schools pay aides to bubble their answers for them. Thought I'd add to your testing knowledge.

05/07/2011 19:17

Interesting... I would have thought in CA the parents would have to pay for the aides ;)


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