Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Noah's FSA week

The FSA tests are a set of reading, writing and numeracy tests administered to all public and independent school students in our province during their Grade 4 and 7 years (determined by age). Because my kids are enrolled with a home-based Distributed Learning program through a wonderful independent school, they are expected to do the testing. My reasons for agreeing to the testing were clear-cut last year when Sophie was of the age. This year it was Noah's turn, and things were a little touchier. He is not as clearly academically driven; he does not read as much, he does not enjoy workbooks. He is not as easy-going a personality when it comes to perceptions of 'success' and 'failure.' And he does occasionally suffer from serious amounts of perfectionism and test-type anxiety.

This is low-stakes testing, meaning it has no impact on the student, only serving as some sort of useless benchmark for the school. Especially useless in the case of a DL program where there are as many educational approaches being used as there are students. It's nothing more than hoop-jumping for the students ... and you don't even have to jump through the hoop -- just show up and pretend to try.

Trepidation describes my feelings as we headed into his testing. I knew that if things got bad, we could get out of it by honestly conveying the issues to the understanding admin staff at the SelfDesign program. Mental anguish is not one of the things we're expected to put our kids through. But we were encouraged to set aside preconceptions, frame the testing as a learning experience, and give it a whirl. And we did.

Only it was a very slow whirl. We had planned on the second week of February. But then he got sick. After four or five days he seemed to be getting a bit better. He did the written part of the numeracy test. It went fine. One of those open-ended exercises with "show your work" and simple combinatorics. He managed. But he was feeling really drained, and still had a sore throat. By that evening he was struck by a new wave of illness. And then we were off to Calgary. And still he felt lousy. So finally this week we got around to the other portions of the test. One subtest at a time, or two. We hated having it hanging over us, so finally we dug in.

The on-line parts were fine. He had a little surge of anxiety at the start of both tests, but after being encouraged to work methodically he got past it. I suspect he did exceptionally well. The questions held little challenge once he quelled his nerves and actually engaged his brain.

The longer creative writing, written reading comprehension and persuasive writing assignments were the parts I was most worried about. It's that whole "writing to task" thing, when the task is imposed from outside and doesn't have meaning or value for the writer -- unschooled kids don't really do that. Fortunately the longer writing assignment, the story-writing, had a very open-ended choice of topics. He actually had fun on that one. And the others ... well, they went, without any mental anguish.

And so ... he's done. And it wasn't a big deal. He has emerged feeling academically quite competent and satisfied that he is capable of doing school-like testing. And those are both positive things that may stay with him. They might even prevent him from worrying, as many homeschooled adolescents do, about how he'd "stack up" in school. Clearly he'd cope just fine.

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