I had been feeling so happy with how our homeschooling has been going. Even with a few criticisms (mostly unintentional) from my husband I was confident in what we've been doing and how much the kids are growing and learning. So confident that I've been passing out advice on-line like it was free candy. I knew it was too good to be true. Well, not really. I guess I just knew that sooner or later doubts would creep in, since they always seem to. I've been trying so hard to focus on what we are getting accomplished and trying real hard not to "borrow" trouble from tomorrow. One of the homeschooling community blogs/pages I follow shared a link to a few free months of interactive math lessons complete with free placement test. I shrugged and though "why not?" it will give me some idea of what they do and don't know.
Out of curiosity I asked my older boys to take the test. I started with Ian and selected 4th grade math since that's the year he'd technically be finishing up. Right off the bat I think he was intimidated by the fact that it's 50 questions and has a 75minute time limit with a timer that counts down (and up) in the upper corner of the page. He felt pressured and he's never been a good tester. I tried to tell him it was "to see " but that didn't seem to help. Many of the problems needed to be written out (like when subtracting three digit numbers from 4 digit numbers with re-grouping) and since my boys HATE to write anything down he was trying to do them all in his head. I sat with him and was surprised by the difficulty level of questions and seriously started questioning what I've been teaching him. Do 4th graders really work on multiplying 3 digit by 2 digit numbers? Do they convert fractions to decimals and then compare which is larger and smaller? Do they divide three digit numbers by two digit numbers? Should they really know these skills-- I mean REALLY KNOW these skills by the end of fourth grade? To me a test is supposed to measure mastery not introduction of skills-- right? I felt like Ian and I spent an hour having a really long math lesson as I explained the terminology of these questions to him, as I showed him what 9x-3x= when x=3 means. I taught him how to compare fractions, add fractions, make improper fractions, reduce fractions, multiply fractions. I taught him the different types of triangles, how to find the area of rectangles (though I admitted to not remembering how to find the area of triangles; even though that was asked). I taught him how to figure out elapsed time, reminded him what perpendicular, intersecting and parallel meant. For the most part it was almost all new material and by the time I stopped him at question 30 I was close to hyperventilating. I was overwhelmed with all that he did not know. I was slightly mollified that as I sat with him and walked him through each question, he did only get 7 wrong but if I had not sat there I'm not sure he would have gotten more than a handful right. I was feeling so down on myself and questioning what I was doing. Is he ever going to be ready for higher education? If he wants to go to high school in three years can I really have him ready? Will his teachers want to answer all his questions and review with him any of those missing pieces it seems he will have? I was having big time doubts. Screaming in my head doubts. I saw him getting more and more overwhelmed and dejected as well and I just wanted to cry. I turned off the test, reminded him it was vacation and told him to go play and have fun. I think he may have gone to his room to cry. I felt awful for him, for me, and for subjecting him to this whole experience.
I sat and thought and vented on Facebook where many of my friends and family members tried to reassure me. I decided since I was already feeling so awful I'd ask Alec to take the test too. I debated on having him take the 2nd grade or the 3rd grade test. Technically he's finishing up 2nd grade but he's already 1/2 way through his 3rd grade book and flies through 5-6 pages at a time. I chose to be daring and picked third grade so you can imagine my surprise when the first 5 questions were ones I KNOW I had just covered with Ian on his 4th grade test. While I did not expect Alec to fly through the test without any issues I did not expect to have to sit there with him and teach each question to him like I did with Ian. I stopped him after 5-10 questions. He apparently didn't know anything either. He had no idea how to add 4 digit numbers together and carry over or how to subtract 3 digit numbers from 4 digit numbers while regrouping-- at least not in his head (and again-- my boys HATE to write anything down). He, understandably did not know how to multiply two digit numbers by three digit numbers, divide three digit numbers by one digit numbers, etc. Nor did he know how to add, subtract and compare fractions either. Either I'm failing my boys something fierce or else this test is a bit much. I decided to research further.
I created a third student and took the first grade test; adding two digit numbers with regrouping, subtracting one digit numbers from two digit numbers with regrouping, writing/ reading out the words nine hundred ninety three for 993, pointing out the numerator in fractions and circling the correct fraction(s) for 5/8, a series of equivalent fractions for 1/5; I seriously doubted that the older boys would have passed even this the "first grade" test without making a few mistakes-- I sure was having to stop and think! The tests did not start with easy questions and get harder, they did not follow any sort of logical order and quite frankly I don't think they followed any set of curriculum books I had ever seen! For the first grade test you were expected to type your answers rather than having multiple choice, if you accidentally pressed enter instead of clicking on the "next" button it ended the test. All three tests had 50 questions and a 75 minute time limit. I thought 50 questions would just be cruel for a first grader to sit through anyway.
I was basing my feelings of inadequacy on whether they were getting the answers right or wrong figuring they would not ask questions they didn't expect the kids to know. Ian scored a 60 since we totally ignored the last 20 questions but later in the day I got a report on his performance and in reading the bar graphs found that he was "above" average in almost all the areas.... I was baffled, frustrated and angry. After all, I had spent the whole day second guessing myself and my kids. Who designs a test like that? I supposed Ian would not have been above average if I had not sat along side him and coached him in the questions but then it seems like he would have gotten them all wrong and so then wouldn't he have been below average? I was baffled and decided that after a long day of complete and total panic that I was just going to ignore all this, warn others of what I thought was a HORRIBLE assessment test and snuggle with my guys on the couch watching some of my favorite movies; I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and I'm so glad my boys are now too! We'll worry about math next week when school in in session and for today we'll concentrate on making family memories.
During dinner, I brought my laptop to the table and got a second opinion; I had my husband take one of the 4th grade placement tests and he agreed that it seemed absurdly hard. He uses math all the time in his job and I'm not afraid to admit he pulled out his calculator a few times (and looked up how to find the area of a triangle). The panic officially subsided and we spent the evening relaxing. Alec, my bookworm, curled up on the couch and read through three books while the younger two boys headed outside to go fishing. The sun finally made a minor appearance and we wanted to take advantage of our chance to get some fresh air.