What do you call a thing that is so “normal” to you that you couldn’t imagine how life would work without it, but is so rare everywhere else that others wonder why you do it at all? What would even qualify for that description? I imagine sugar might be close. Americans, apparently, eat far more sugar than the rest of the world. Is sugar such a “normal” part of our lives that we couldn’t even imagine life without it, whereas the rest of the world wonders why we use so much of it? Testing fits in this category. Apparently, Americans test and formally assess our students far more than most other places in the world. We have quizzes during a course of study, followed by end of unit tests, followed by end of grade tests or end of year tests, followed by a preliminary Stanford Achievement Test (PSAT) for eighth and ninth graders, a preliminary Stanford Acheivement Test for tenth graders, a Stanford Achievement Test (SAT) for eleventh and twelfth graders, and an American College Testing test (ACT) for eleventh and twelfth graders. Oh, yeah, and there’s a preACT for tenth graders now, too. Let’s not forget CLEP, DANTE, and AP tests, or the numerous papers and projects that are required and assessed as well. Like I said, though, apparently we do this more than most others. Some places, like Oxford University, test and formally assess far less, in some cases only at the very end of one’s educational career (high school or college). Informal assessment happens along the way there, as it does here. Teachers are capable of knowing where the students are, without having to give quizzes and tests and other formal assessments. Perhaps Americans favor efficiency more than other places?
If Americans are going to assess as much as we do, here’s what it should be like for the student: assessment should bless, honor, encourage, and cultivate. Assessment should bless, or as I heard Andrew Kern describe it recently, it should create beatitude. Why should testing create anxiety for the student? Why should a student feel like the test is made up of traps, like the teacher knows what a student is likely to get wrong and puts that question into the quiz on purpose, just to trip him up? It’s as if the teacher is just looking for a way to fail him, rather than looking for a way to save him. Why should a test leave a student downtrodden, in need of cake and ice cream or chocolate (the kind you eat when you are depressed, not when you are celebrating)?
If testing is going to be a necessary part of American education, give me one that celebrates what I do know and all the hard work I put into my studies. Give me one that shows me what I don’t know, but in a way that encourages me to continue learning. Give me one that is interesting, that provokes questions and incites my curiosity. I don’t want to read passages from the kind of books Eustace Clarence Scrubb reads. I want to read passages from the right kind of books.
This is the kind of test I want. And, honestly, this is the kind of test I recently took. By now, you have hopefully heard of the Classic Learning Test. It is an alternative to the SAT and ACT for college entrance and scholarship awards. It is the kind of test classical educators and homeschoolers should be taking, and it is that kind of test precisely because it blesses, honors, encourages, and cultivates. You can take a practice test on the website, and it will not only tell you your score, but also which questions you got wrong and why. It’s like the testmakers want you to be successful! It’s like they want you to enjoy learning and being curious. It’s a new kind of test, and in all the right ways. The CLT offers interesting readings, thoughtful questions, and an anxiety-free experience, right down to the fact that you don’t have to wait anxiously for 4-6 weeks to get your results. You get them the same day you test!
This is not, moreover, just the experience of a classical education nerd, either. Real students, across the country, have been taking this test and many of them are saying the same things. Parents and teachers, take the practice test and see what I mean for yourselves. Parents and teachers, sign your children up or encourage or create opportunities for your students to take it. See for yourself and show them that testing can be different. The world of assessment can be changed.