Thursday, January 20, 2011

Test Anxiety

Wow, I really didn't see this one coming.
Everything I've read about Montessori is non-testing, but there is some kind of district-wide testing this week. I know it isn't unique to the public Montessori, because one of the parents of a first grade student at the the private school Sean attended told me there were timed math tests for the Lower El.
I'm not a fan of testing. I won't go into all of the reasons because I think I'd be preaching to the choir. I also don't like grades, and I've made that more than clear during our site council meetings and in talking with teachers at the school.

So I knew these tests were coming, but it didn't occur to me that they would be a big deal to Sean. Boy, was I wrong. I forgot they were this week, and he was out of school Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and also on Tuesday for a teacher work day.

Yesterday he had tumbling at 8 a.m., so the day started an hour earlier than normal. I picked him up from school and he mentioned that he had tests and several times said his teacher said she couldn't repeat, so they had to get it on the first time.

We came home and he played with his friend. Chuck came for dinner before he had to go to a meeting and we all ate dinner together. Sean's friend stayed late and I was working and kept thinking someone would come over to get him soon. I looked up and it was 8 p.m. Wow. So I made the friend go home and quickly shuffled Sean off to bed. We read some poetry together from Shel Silverstein's "Falling Up" and then I tucked him in. He was restless. I sat with him for a while and then said goodnight.

Chuck came back after his meeting and Sean was still restless. He was in and out of bed many times before Chuck arrived, and said he couldn't sleep. "I hate tests!" he yelled. I tried to talk to him about the test and encourage him to just do his best and not worry about it. After several times of putting him back to bed and attempting to calm him, Chuck took over. He is so patient and kind and gentle. He's a Godsend.

Chuck came out of Sean's room and told me he tried to explain that sometimes tests are the way teachers figure out what they are supposed to teach. He wasn't sure it helped. It probably did a little, but Sean was wound up.

I think it was probably 11 or later when he finally fell asleep.

I walked in with Sean to class this morning so I could talk to his teacher and let her know this is a big problem for him. She is great too, and asked him what they could do to make it easier for him to get through the testing. I think just having her validate his feelings about the test, and her willingness to help him find a way to calm down did wonders.

When I picked him up this afternoon she said they put a Star Wars book beside him while he took the test so he could look at something that made him feel happy if he got too anxious or worried during the test. She said he also seemed to realize he was very prepared for the test and it wasn't as big of a deal as he originally thought.

 When I asked about it on the way to the car he said it wasn't bad, and some of it was really easy. He admitted some words he just didn't get so he drew whatever he thought should be there.

He hasn't mentioned it since we've been home, but he usually opens up with his feelings at bath or bedtime.


  1. I don't have any great advice. Just a couple of observations. I was that Casa and Lower El Teacher whose school required testing for K on up.

    As far as the classroom situation:
    Montessori children are not used to asking a question and the teacher not being able to help them or at least validate their thoughts. The testing expectation goes against everything we spend weeks and months ingraining into children. I would have at least one kindergarden aged child under the table in tears before the end of the first day of testing. It is agonizing for the teacher as well.

    As far as the scores:
    The tests do not adequately measure the Montessori child. The way the test words things in not the way in which we teach. We are straight forward and don't try to trick children. The tests do. They are often not scientifically where the Montessori child is. They have poorly thought through questions that don't hold up to examination.

    For example, in south Florida the Stanford 9 K test asked "What clothes are worn in winter?" Pictures: A. shorts and sunglasses, B. Jacket, C. Parka. All of my kids picked A. or "Where do whales live?" A. river, B. ocean, C. round swimming pool. C of course. That is where whales live at Sea World.

    Try the third grade test. "Where do plants get their food?" Picture - mountains/rocks, sun, other plants. The test wants B but A is also correct when erosion is factored in and mineral absorption is counted for; also C is correct numerous plants are leachers off of other plants and received their food from them.

    Good luck on your situation. You teacher sounds like she has helped him find a transitional coping method.

  2. eavice,
    Thank you for sharing your insight on the testing issue. You gave great examples of how it just doesn't work for Montessori students. I plan to share these at our next site council meeting. I think it helps to have such concrete examples of how and why testing doesn't work, and how the questions and answers are tricking the children.
    Sean mentioned that he had to choose an answer, not something he is used to at all. He's used to discovering the answer.

  3. Thanks and glad to aid. I am deeply opposed to digging up the seed to see if it is growing. All this does is destroy the nutrient absorbing root hairs.

    Let me know if I may be of assistance if you need a sounding board or a more reasoned discussion than I posted earlier. The examples in the social studies and natural sciences sections are multitude and the math and reading sections have more subtle issues for the children.