For many of us, schooling is inextricably linked to memories of testing, evaluations and scores. One thing that draws us to Montessori is the general absence of testing as we experienced it. However, the absence of traditional tests is not an absence of assessment.
Assessments are only helpful if they give information which is valid and accurate. Surely many of us can relate to the experience of doing well on a test but not truly understanding the information tested. So, unlike traditional models, assessment in Montessori classrooms provides real feedback to the guide – and the child – about their understanding.
The child is frequently assessed by their guide through direct interaction and observation. This one-on-one consideration allows the guide concrete understanding of where a child is, what they understand and where any gaps in knowledge might be.
Moreover, the children are given the skills to self-assess – to determine for themselves where they need more practice, where they went wrong, what they need to do to succeed. This work is not done in a vacuum; the guide works on the skill of self-assessment with the child. In the Elementary classroom this work can concretely be seen during weekly conferences although in reality the work is done every day. This is true not just of academic feats but also of social and emotional endeavors.
Testing in the more traditional sense is, however, a reality of our world. And as test-taking is a skill in and of itself, it is something we want to give the children some experience with. And so, at the beginning of March our 3rd through 6th year students will embark on a week of standardized testing after spending time at the end February prepping for the experience. For those with 3rd years, please know that this is a rite of passage that is generally greeted with excitement and eager anticipation!
As this type of test is divergent from the experiences most Montessori children are familiar with, the message that we send our children about it is important and formative.
To that end, we ask that you encourage your children to do their best without unnecessarily weighting the outcomes. From our perspective, this test gives them practice and exposure to the types of standardized tests which they may be taking in the future. It does not necessarily mean one thing or another about them academically. It has gravity and importance, but it does not (and cannot) reflect the fullness of their intellect or ability.
Finally, when you receive your child’s scores in the next few months, please refrain from sharing the results with them. This information is not helpful to your child, and it is difficult to share scores with children without giving them false import. Remember that while the scores may be helpful on a macro level (e.g., providing feedback to guides regarding class-wide strengths or weaknesses), the scores are taken out of any meaningful context for children. The children may try to contextualize their numbers by comparing them with classmates which is, as you can imagine, beneficial to no one. The social nature of Elementary children, coupled with the novelty of test scores, lead us to ask the community as a whole to refrain from sharing test results with children.
The important parenting work surrounding the test taking experience is to reassure your child that while you want them to do their best and try their hardest, you love them anyway, no matter what. Make sure that they know that the test does not prove or disprove anything about them as people. And finally, to support the entirety of the experience, make sure they are well-rested, well-fed and unscreened the morning of testing.
My thanks to Anna Schwind for many, many of the above words along with lots of insights (as always!). The brilliance of the photography comes from Melinda Smith and Lauren Knight.