On Monday we sent home a flyer for the SC READY standardized test, and it has led to some questions I’d like to answer. Taking standardized tests is part of the reality of public schools, and our students are no exception. One parent asked me if she should be doing something to prepare her child. The answer, beyond engaging with your child at home (reading together, for example), is mostly no.
In Montessori we don’t teach to the test; we prepare children for life. You might be interested to know that South Carolina has more public Montessori schools than any other state. This is, in part, because the SC Department of Education studied our Method and found that the Montessori curriculum meets or exceeds all state standards. On aggregate, Montessori students do better on standardized tests despite our students not being taught to pass the test, and despite the test being designed to assess students in traditional schools (where, for instance, they learn mathematics differently from our method).
When we embarked on our journey from a private to a public charter school I visited the other public charter Montessori schools (all on the coast). I was horrified to learn that one of them started each day with 15 minutes of “test prep.” What is that supposed to do, prepare them for the test or allow them to understand how important the testing event is? I called Dr. Jackie Cossentino, chief researcher for the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, and asked her if “test prep” was necessary for survival as a public Montessori school—if her answer had been “yes” I would have stopped our application. But she said absolutely not; she said we should just practice the Montessori Method. So we do.
Children can do poorly on tests for a number of reasons, and lack of ability or learning is only one of them—and not, I suspect, the primary one. Other reasons include fatigue or because the stakes are high and their stress level goes up. This is what happens to smart people who “don’t test well.” Students stress; parents stress; teachers and administrators stress. Maybe even the State Superintendent of Education (who told me personally, by the way, that she “loves Montessori”), because at some point it becomes political. Everybody hates testing and this is why. I don’t hold my teachers accountable for the test results so they don’t stress over the tests (which would have the effect of decreasing their effectiveness in the classroom and passing stress to the children), and I hope parents also take these assessments as just another event in the life of the child. We guide the children to learn the material, not to do well on a test but to do well in life, and I hope this is why you enrolled them in a Montessori program. Standardized test taking does not teach a life skill. I have gone as far in education as is possible, and I haven’t taken a standardized test (the GRE) since 1976!
The flyer mentioned that students who do not to demonstrate reading proficiency by the end of 3rd Grade will be retained. While the law does indeed have that provision, it also mentions six exceptions and explains one of them. Should one of our students fall in this category we will assess the situation and take the necessary steps to help the student succeed.