Monday, April 05, 2010

What Do These Scores Mean?

by Andy Hanson

Usually, scores on standardized tests look pretty impressive. They have been computer generated and are often accompanied by bar graphs and statistical information. Since the scores you are most likely to see compare your child's achievements and/or IQ to those of other children of approximately the same age and grade, more than likely viewing these numbers and graphs elicits an emotional response.

Years ago, I used to illustrate the emotional impact of test scores by giving my student teachers part of an IQ/achievement test. It was a timed test, and I told them that while the test wasn't long, it was surprisingly accurate, and that their scores indicated both their intelligence and the way their teachers would probably rate their abilities as students.
Some students became clearly emotional and refused to take the test, even when I told them that failure to take the test might affect their grades. The students who took the test did not do it happily. But when I graded the test against a fake norming population that ranked almost all of them below average in both IQ and achievement, there were emotional reactions that varied from loud expressions of disgust to shame. Students who did significantly better than their colleagues, either tried to hide their scores or trumpeted them loudly, much to the disgust of the others in the class.

One unfortunate outcome of this experiment, as far as I was concerned, was that the class became very hostile toward me for simply administering the test. Even when I revealed that the test was bogus, and that I simply wanted them to know what it felt like to be a student who did poorly on such a test, they still didn't like me. Some didn't speak to me for weeks! Students who had bragged about how smart they were were shunned!

Needless to say, after two or three experiences, I decided that the emotional cost of my little demonstration was too high to continue using it to make what I considered to be an important point. Namely, that many of us allow our value to be at least partially determined by test results, particularly "objective" tests that compare us to others. My graduate students confessed that this little test was destructive of their self-confidence, lowered their self-esteem, and made them dislike me and the entire teacher education program!

One of my philosophy teachers at USC argued that it was economically vital that all children go to school. It is here, he said, that a significant and essential portion of the population learns that they are inferior, that they are "D's" and "F's". It is schools and tests that convince them that they deserve minimum wages without health benefits, that their lives have little value.

Tests and test scores provide feedback about work habits, learning abilities, and achievement. They have nothing to do with our value and importance in this world or in the eyes of God. It is Christian character that is all-important.