A Test by Any Other Name

We don't give tests in our homeschool. We give assessments. However, I accidentally used the "T" word the other day with Michael.

Michael, it's time for your spelling test.

A look of panic crossed his face that said: What test?! I didn't study for a test!

I tried to recover.

I mean, it's time for your spelling assessment. It's an assessment not a test.

He didn't look reassured, so I continued,

This is not a test. I just want to see what you know. These are all words you know how to spell. If you don't know the words, then we will just spend more time going over them next week.

He was still not buying it. He'd heard this before. He explained:

My teacher last year called them "assessments", too. But they were really tests.

The difference is not in name only, as Michael suspected. Assessments should be an opportunity to show what you know, not a trap to find out what you don't know. We don't give grades either, indicating a pass or fail based on what can be regurgitated. And there aren't any punishments for not knowing the answers. Wrong answers simply let me know more time needs to be spent on a subject, or a change in approach needs to be made, or both. Also, the boys do not study for assessments, like they would for tests at school-school. I'm not interested in what they have been able to memorize the night before, but in the knowledge they truly hold and that has become a part of them. Charlotte Mason explained it this way:

There is a third kind of (spurious) memory––facts and ideas floating in the brain which yet make no part of it, and are exuded at a single effort; ... when the schoolboy 'crams' for an examination, writes down what he has thus learned, and behold, it is gone from his gaze for ever: as Ruskin puts it, "They cram to pass, and not to know, they do pass, and they don't know."

- Charlotte Mason, Home Education

Michael is still new to this idea. For two years, he has breathed in the atmosphere of the "test" and all the anxiety and pressure that comes with it. It will take some time for him to realize I'm not here to trip him up or catch him by springing something on him for which he is unprepared. Trust is built and maintained through experience. And it will help if I don't use the "T" word again.