Saying Goodbye to Testing Trauma & Data Disorder

66954_1606876208578_4007586_nThis time of year teachers and students start to twitch because it’s testing time. It seems the weight of the world is on their shoulders and out of their control.

National standardized tests are such a limited and short sighted way to judge a person’s learning. In school, Dale participated in  annual tests and what seemed like daily  test prep. The big annual tests were stressful  but not overly traumatic since he scored well.

Making our transition from the classroom to the world of unschooling was a huge step for his traditionally schooled parents -school teacher and engineer. Engineer dad was not really comfortable with this learning freedom idea. So, Dad wanted us to continue to have Dale participate annual testing to measure his learning.  Dad needed data.

Test results imageIn late spring of our first year of learning freedom Dale wasn’t happy to find out he had to do testing.  Even though in previous years it had been no big deal,  the contrast  between artificial testing and real life learning was so huge it really freaked him out. He was more stressed than ever and resentful that he had to waste his time testing. He was not happy that I had made that agreement, but as often is the case, children are not always party to all  parental negotiations.

It was a stressful few days and then we forgot about the tests. We jumped back into learning, creating, doing, making  and gathering with new friends in the homeschooling community.

A month or more later the tests scores arrived. I was curious and nervous. Even though I didn’t value the test results, I knew my husband did. And that Dale and I, as well as the whole idea of homschooling, would be judged. Some of the scores had dropped, compared to the previous year. Some only a few percentage points,  other areas many points lower.

Umm, my hubby was NOT happy.

It was so  frustrating to me, that our year of incredible learning could possibly be tallied and measured by the numbers on this piece of paper.

“But honey,  it does not matter – look at what Dale has LEARNED and is doing this year. Look at the growth and all the things he has tackled that he never would have a chance to try in the classroom”

He learned to play the saxophone and continued with the piano, loving both of them.

He learned French.

He started a photography business and began making and selling cards with his and his father’s photos and still ran his flower business.

He read more than 100 books.

He did 4H projects, volunteered for our library group, was in a play, learned calligraphy, was part of a homeschool track group, planned and cooked several meals a week.

We met with a world history/geography coop,  attended movie nights and game nights, went  sledding and skiing with another homeschool family.

Dale had had to create a new social network since  our schedules did not mesh at all with his schooled friends.

“You know mom, I spend a lot less time with a big groups of kids exactly my age, and I have more alone time but I feel like I have more time with people who get me.”


Dale was happy.  Life was full.  Life was good.

Learning was exponential and filled with so many challenges and growth not covered by a test.

As I detailed all of the above, I  reminded my husband that we never spent a moment practicing for the test. So, if he really needed to evaluate and graph outcomes versus input, I thought we were way ahead of the game. Pierre agreed, albeit reluctantly, to continue on this new path.

Change is scary. Being different is scary. 

Trusting yourself instead of looking to outside evaluation can be difficult.

But I can only tell you from our experience, whether or not you leave school, leaving test-taking trauma and data disorder behind is a wonderful thing.

Dale Stephens and his father rafting on Cache Creek.How do you measure learning?  What about happiness?

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