Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who Exactly Are You Testing Here, Urban Mom?

What can I tell you?  I'm in a weird place.  It's a dusty, tail-bone-bruised, grit-in-my-teeth kind of place that one lands after falling off of a high horse. 



And it's a worried place.  Am I doing this right?  Am I messing up this whole homeschooling thing?  I mean, one of the reasons that we're doing this is because we think that we can do it better than the system.  But here I am.... worrying....  I tell people that we'll do this for as long as it works, for as long as it's the best way to serve the Urban Kids. 

I've been given a statistical kick in the hiney this week.

The backstory:
Chicago Public Schools has a nearly impossible to navigate network of magnet or selective enrollment schools.  You have to apply to go to these extra-special places.  And you have to test in (ok, admission is based on the score plus additional census factors all combined into an algorithm that would confuse stephen hawking).  The type of test that your kid takes depends on the type of school you want her to attend.  When the results/acceptance letters go out from CPS, word spreads like wildfire amongst parents.  Mail carriers fear rabid parents waiting at their doors as they frantically grapple for these letters.

For the last three years, I've "applied" Urban Kid 1 to these schools.  We're in the luxurious position of getting a free test (our tax dollars at work, right?) without having to actually have any angst about this letter holding my child's future within its text.

Applying for Kindergarten:  (one test)  Urban Kid 1 scored in the 99.7th percentile.  Urban Dad's genetic influence was clearly manifesting itself.

Applying for First Grade:  (two tests)  On test #1, U-Kid 1 scored in the 99th percentile in reading and in the 97th percentile in math.  On test #2, she pulled a score of 123 out of maybe 130, landing her in the 94th percentile.  I figured that was pretty sweet, that our little arrangment here was working, and even ventured to pat myself on the back a bit.
I got the results this week for "applying" to Second Grade

Test #1:  96th percentile in reading and 77th percentile in math.
Test #2: 106 points

Which had me reacting like this:


I was crushed.  Not by the scores, mind you.  She's a happy, playful, friendly, socially adept and curious kid, and yes, those things are the most important things.  Please don't leave me grumpy comments about the scores themselves.  I'm massively concerned about the drop, about the sudden change.  I figured that when I was starting to get in over my head that the scores would sliiiiide down over a period of time.  So it was this potential evidence about whether I am utterly bombing as my daughters' teacher that had me sitting catatonically with the letter and with tears welling up in my eyes.

Urban Dad, who already spends the majority of his days running around tending to things and people, had to talk me down.

"She had a bad day; so what!"
"Give me a break, she knows math!"  (this from a former trader the the Mercantile Exchange)
"They screwed up the test, obviously."
"Even if the test is right, math is the easiest thing to fix -- it's just practice."
"Will you stop?  You're doing a great job!  She's getting a great education because of you.  Forget about this!"
"You remember Vimal?"  (i do... brilliant former student of u-dad's... several years later, he went into finance, and u-dad and i gave him money to invest; we also attended his wedding)  "Vimal failed the AP test for my class because he accidentally filled in the blanks on the computer form wrong.  Do you hear me?  Vimal got a failing score."  (i hadn't known this before)  "So STOP, you haven't done anything wrong!"

When Urban Kid 1 was in the room later -- no, we haven't shared this with her -- he casually asked her a few math questions, a la how homeschool kids are often drilled by strangers.  Without looking up, she popped off correct answers.  And she recalled the tests as easy (so perhaps she was too cavalier?)

Now if I want to play the My Baby Is Perfect It's You That's The Problem Game, I can do that as well as any other parent.  At the first test, there was a blizzard bad enough to make me opt for the El rather than driving.  By the time we trained down there, walked to the facility, took the test, and trained back, the test was an aaaaallllllll daaaayyyy event.  So yeah, there ya go.... it was the weather!  For the second test, we drove there, easily found our way to the facility, and walked in to find the facility's thermometer cranking.  While we were dressed for Chicago in December, it felt like

Urban Kid 1 and her fellow test-takers came out dragging and with bright pink cheeks.  I asked if the test administers didn't open a window... she replied, "they weren't allowed to."  (i left a snarky note on my parent survey)

ahem, no, I can't remember which test was given on which day.

My gut tells me that Urban Kid 1 is fine.  When we work together every day, she picks up the concepts and runs with them.  But I'm a numbers-wound kind of person in my head, and I need to lose this nagging doubt, so I called these folks for help settling my internal dispute.

I told them what I've shared with you here, they're quite familiar with Saxon Math, and they have a nice, thorough diagnostic that will let me vicariously crawl into Urban Kid 1's brain and have a look around.  (instrusive much, val?)  They didn't even give me the hard sell about their pricey programs.  U-Dad is ok with us spending the money because 1.) I promised that this would be the only test; that I won't go around looking for a test that tells me what I want to hear rather than what is true and 2.) he thinks it'll get him a reassured wife.  And as we all know...


 

8 comments:

Incongruous Circumspection said...

I'm showing this to my wife. She would be better at empathy and support than I. We actually quit homeschooling this year, never to go back because it didn't work for us. But, in your case, you sound like a VERY dedicated teacher and that is what counts. Don't sweat it. At least the test scores weren't failing. And, keep in mind that your child's counterparts in CPS are most likely much less capable than your pride and joy.

Kristine said...

I don't think that the 77 percential qualifies you for the Bad Homeschool Mom award. My first thought is that your daughter is going to be strong in the english subjects and will have to work a little harder in the math and science areas. That would happen in public or homeschool. I wouldn't stress over it or even take the saxon test because what if she scores the same or even worse on that? If you really were not doing a good job with her, she would not have scored as high as she did in reading. So... sit back, relax, pat yourself on the back for the reading score, and determine to always beaware of how she is doing in math. Incongruous Circumspection's Wife

Karen said...

I think the time may have come that you start teaching to the test if you are going to continue to test. Kids can get led into incorrect answers by unfamiliar wording. My older dd had trouble on her standardized test last year, but my tester told me that she didn't use scratch paper. SHe would have probably gotten them all if she had used scratch paper.

Urban Mom said...

Thanks, everyone! Interesting feedback. I'm going with the "she had a bad day" strategy. And Karen, you make a good point about teaching to the test. I want the Urban Kids to have the experience of standardized testing under their belts, but need to be able to be more dismissive of the results, whatever they may be. In the meantime, I'll probably take her for the math diagnosic anyway, but will do it in June as sort of a year-end check-in. Am I speaking out of both sides of my mouth? Probably. At least for now. Thanks again for the insights, everyone!

TiffanyB said...

There is something about the homeschool mom that makes her the most paranoid person ever!! She is always asking, "Er, did I just screw up my kid(s)?" I know that is definitely the case for me! I had a similar experience the first time my 8 year old took a standardized test, a grade level above where he would be in PS, but on par with the grade level he works within at home. It was disheartening but then I realized it wasn't too bad considering he had no experience with standardized tests and just wanted to hurry up and get finished. Since it was untimed, he would finish in a few minutes and then move onto the next section. My goal with homeschooling is to raise children who can think and learn, not merely answer a question. The fact that my child can explain (not just repeat an explanation he heard but in his own words) literal "darkness" versus metaphorical "darkness" to his sister is evidence enough. Keep up the good work!! Raise THINKERS, not people who can only regurgitate answers they heard somewhere along the way!

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