With a graduate degree from Oxford, I think I have proven myself exceptionally good at “the testing game”. I have no anxiety around tests – but I strongly object to the sense of self-worth that these test scores represented for me for the first 20+ years of my life. It’s a lot to unlearn.
This year, we’re enrolling Ms. H in a homeschool charter school program. It will give us some much-needed funds to spend on the classes and supplies we are already utilizing. The only hitch? After age 7, they require that Ms. H take the STAR tests. I’ll let her make her own judgement call on whether or not to participate, but I hope that she will sit the test, but refuse to be tested — to be a ‘testing refusenik’.This is not because I want to game the system. The term ’refusenik’ is purposeful – it’s not taking the tests as a form of protest, as a way of saying that the tests themselves should not be the litmus test by which we judge our children, or our schools.
Homeschool charters have some of the lowest API’s in the state – but does that say anything, anything at all, about the value of homeschooling or what those kids are learning? I’ve taught at low-API schools and seen creative geniuses and future scientists languishing thanks to punitive funding cuts. I’ve seen kids attempt suicide at high-pressure schools thanks to the beliefs that low test scores correlate with life-long failure. Alfie Kohn has a great list of why standardized testing doesn’t serve kids or schools – so I will just say this: everything about testing and how it’s carried out in neighborhoods – rich and poor – is anathema to the development of human intellect and spirit.
The term ‘testing refusenik’ actually comes from education reformer John Taylor Gatto. He makes a passionate case that if enough kids/parents were testing ‘refuseniks’, our government would have to find a new way to measure the value of an education. He suggests just writing down your name, and then putting across the top “I refuse to take this test on the grounds that it does not measure my worth as a student or a human being.”
I wish I could go back in time and organize a refusenik campaign at my alma matter - Gunn High in Palo Alto. Maybe if there’d been a stress-reduction revolution when I was there, there wouldn’t have been all those kids jumping in front of trains these past few years.
As for Ms. H, I have no doubt that if someday she would like to become a doctor, or a graduate student, or get her driver’s license, or anything else she sets her mind to – that she will be fully capable of jumping through the requisite hoops. I just want her to jump knowing that’s what they are — hoops. When I jumped through mine, I thought that those scores measured my value as a person. That belief was damaging to my growth – whether the scores were good or bad.
On the other hand, I appreciate very much what homeschool charters are doing — putting educational decision-making and spending into the hands of parents. If I thought that this kind of protest would hurt them, I would allow Ms. H to take the test and just do her best. On the other hand, her scores would go in the shredder, unopened.
I would be very happy if Ms. H could make it through college without ever taking a standardized test. But who knows, she could have other ideas. Regardless, I really would like to make sure that she knows that test scores and the wonder that is human achievement are two VERY different things.