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Standardized Testing in the Junior High

Categories: Adolescent Program / General Knowledge Fund
From Dr. Bilezikian, Director of our Jr. High community:
Taking tests is an important piece of the Jr. High experience, but not for the reason that you might think.  In traditional settings, tests are thought of as the primary means of evaluating a student’s acquisition of knowledge (what is more likely being measured is rote memory and recall ability).  In Montessori, evaluation is conducted differently, so as to assess acquisition of knowledge and skills, integration of information across disciplines, application of concepts to personal belief systems and values, and ability to convey the relevant material to others effectively.  Tests are a secondary means of evaluation.
In our Jr. High, the main reason that we give tests is to teach test taking as a life skill.  We understand that being able to take tests well is essential to excelling in high school, college and in the workplace (what training program doesn’t include testing?).
Students receive this experience in two ways.  They are given guide (teacher)-generated tests about weekly throughout the year and they are also administered standardized testing (referred to as the Iowas or Iowa Test of Basic Skills) annually.  The weekly tests expose students to a variety of formats.  Questions can be answered with: true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, or essay.  Tests are “graded” as a group.  In addition to correcting content, we pay attention to process issues.  Was the answer marked clearly or written legibly?  Are erasures confusing?  Does the writing communicate what is intended?  Did the student skip the difficult question and mark it for return?  Students are also coached about how to answer multiple choice when unsure of the answer, how to answer a question on which they “blank,” and so on.  Perhaps most importantly is the self-management for the testing situation.  For instance, how do I study/prepare?  How do I talk to myself as I approach the test?  What do I do if I get anxious during the test?
The standardized test affords us some learning opportunities in addition to those already described.  The very formal administration format is replicated so that it will feel familiar in the future.  At the same time, while we discuss future implications that standardized tests will some day have for students and the schools that they attend, the environment is depressurized in terms of the consequences of this testing.  They understand that, if they “bomb” a section, they can retake it.  Students are able to practice pacing, checking, and filtering extraneous stimuli.  Student and teacher use the experience to celebrate excellence and to identify areas for focus in the coming year.
Also, since our typical score is several grades above current level, these tests have the added benefit of inducing additional pride in already proud parents.
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