The troubles with testing

Standard
English: School children doing exams inside a ...

English: School children doing exams inside a classroom, 1940. Children sitting at their school desks in a classroom doing scholarship examinations, 16 April 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few of us have fond memories of taking tests when we were in school.  I can still remember completely blanking out on one of my final exams in university – one look at the test paper and I totally forgot everything I had studied.  I recall passing the course but just barely.  I still have dreams about failing an exam.

As a general rule, M’s school doesn’t rely on formal testing to evaluate students.  The teachers tend to use more informal methods of assessment.  There are standard tests that are administered in a couple of the grades, but by in large, testing isn’t a focus in the  school.

For a child with ADHD and anxiety, this approach works.  M’s performance is assessed but he isn’t required to sit at a desk and answer questions on a particular subject.   But this week, his teacher has been using a formalized evaluation tool to determine the student’s progress in reading comprehension against standardized norms for his grade.   M’s EA sends us a progress every couple of days, so we knew he was struggling with the evaluation.    We didn’t know how much until M burst into tears at supper.  

According to M, everyone else in the class had finished the questions except him.  He didn’t understand the questions and neither the teacher nor the EA were allowed to help him.   It was clear to us that he was very stressed about the evaluation.  We  tried to help him identify what it was about the process that was distressing him, but after a few minutes of tearful declarations about how dumb the test was, how he didn;t understand the questions and how stupid he was, he decided he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

This is pretty typical for M – he will get to a certain stage in the discussion and then shut down.  If it is a difficult or upsetting topic, the shut down point will come sooner in the conversation, rather than later.   So it wasn’t surprising when he closed the door on the conversation.

Like most parents, we are not so easily put off.  We also understand that when M gets anxious, even simple things become seemingly impossible.  He is a strong reader and understands most of what he is reading.   Writing, however, is not his strength.  On one level, he probably did understand the questions, but his anxiety about having to write down an answer got in his way.  Since he didn’t even feel he understood what he was being asked to do, he felt doubly inadequate.

Given his exceptionalities, M has an individualized learning plan.  We have had a number of discussions with the school about what sorts of supports and modifications M needs to succeed.  He has a computer in class but apparently he wasn’t using it in this instance.  Why, we aren’t entirely sure.  We haven’t discussed putting in place specific accommodations for tests – more time, a quiet place to do the test, etc – because us until now it hasn’t been an issue.

Interestingly, it was M who identified what he needed – practice at doing tests.  He knows that he will have to do more tests in middle school.  We aren’t exactly sure how we are going to ensure he gets more experience in this area.  First step is identifying the issue.   We need M’s cooperation to come up with a solution, which may take some time.  We need to get beyond the stress and the tears so we can strategize on the best way to tackle the problem.  That will have to wait for another day.

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