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Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Time Event
1:53p
By the numbers
Yesterday, Tyler was stressing about his next year of high school, in which he has to do the PSAT and all kinds of other tests. I asked him, "Are you likely to score high enough on any of these tests (PSAT, SAT, ACT, what-have-you) to get a scholarship?" No, he said. "Are you likely to do so badly on any of these tests that you might not get into the college of your choice?" No, he said. "Then quit worrying about them," I said. "For most people, the only question that matters when applying for college is, 'can your daddy write a check?' Now, if you want to get into Purdue Veterinary School or something, then, yeah, grades and scores matter, but for most people -- pfft."

We score our lives with numbers. Only a few of the numbers have a real impact on our lives. Some of the others can be used to play "mine is bigger than yours," but that's a perversion of their original intent. And of course, school administrators can fool you into trying to perform to a certain level so that they achieve something that matters to them. But none of these things should matter. Take the test. Do what you can do. But don't carry the burden of performance on your shoulders. You score what you score. Get a good night's sleep and move on.

It should be noted here that I am an excellent test-taker. My scores on various tests have opened the occasional door for me. But they have also been misused by both teachers and by peers to pigeon-hole me and treat me as something other than a real person. I've seen people break their hearts trying to get a particular score that didn't mean what the test-taker thought it did, and that broke my heart. I've seen people snub others because of their scores. And I've seen school personnel try to use scores of various types (particularly those on various psychological tests) to bully students and parents and avoid taking responsibility for their teaching and classroom management.

It's not that tests are bad. Tests are important for evaluating both teaching and learning. But scores matter a whole lot less than people think they do. And that can be a very freeing discovery for both test-takers and test-givers.

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