Faculty Focus is an ongoing series, featuring articles written by Heartwood’s own panel of experts. This installment comes from Lower Elementary lead Bridget Dickerson.
Many people ask why a Montessori school would administer a standardized test, since we don’t usually test our students. It’s a North Carolina state requirement to administer a nationally standardized achievement test each year, but testing is only one small part of our answer to the big question, “How is the child doing?”
A Piece of the Puzzle
To fulfill the state’s requirement, we administer the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS). The ITBS exam is a nationally standardized, norm referenced test that is used in many schools across the country to students from kindergarten through grade eight. At Heartwood, we administer the ITBS to children beginning in their third year (or last year of lower elementary); the testing provides achievement scores that help students, teachers, and parents better understand how well students perform in Language Arts, Reading, Math, Science and Social Sciences.
We say that the ITBS is nationally standardized because each test is administered to the test-takers in the same way across all populations. Therefore, the score interpretations are based on a comparison of the test taker’s performance to the performance of all other students in the nation (who are taking the same level test). This means that the test is norm-referenced because it compares students’ abilities rather than comparing to some other criteria set by the test makers.
Fostering Confident Learners
However, we are constantly evaluating our students in our classrooms. Through observation of a child’s mastery of concepts, we evaluate readiness to move on to new lessons. The Montessori approach incorporates the three-period lesson into our curriculum. Children are given a new lesson (1st period), they work individually, with other students or with the guide to learn and internalize the new concept (2nd period) and show this internalization or mastery through a research paper, project, or other means (3rd period).
Our students are not given scores or grades because these, like other external rewards, have limited lasting effects on a child’s efforts and don’t serve to motivate. Montessori nurtures a motivation from within, which inspires a child’s natural desire to learn. This approach creates a self-motivated learner, one that doesn’t need reinforcement from the outside. Scores don’t define our learners. So, we look further to see the positive benefits of testing.
The ITBS can be quite positive, when our students and families understand that one of the most positive outcomes is the ability for our students to practice the life skill of test taking. They will take many tests over the course of their lives and going through this experience helps them understand what it feels like. It’s an important life skill. For our youngest test takers, it’s a completely new experience and truly the goal is the experience in and of itself.
Most of the time, the students enjoy the change to their daily schedule that the ITBS brings. They enjoy it more when they are relaxed and they understand that the score does not define them or in any way affect their progress or standing. The most important part of testing week is making sure all students are at school by 8:30 a.m. each day, so that they can take part in the social activity of eating a little something together, if they choose, before testing begins and aren’t worried about being late.
~ Bridget Dickerson
Bridget says, “I taught at Heartwood for 5.5 years before leaving in 2016 to teach in Kunming, China, and I’m excited to be back in the classroom. I studied Speech Science Communication and Disorders at the University of Texas in Austin and worked in a Speech-Language Pathology Center in Austin, TX until my twins were born. I earned my American Montessori Society (AMS) certification in Lower Elementary Education while homeschooling my children; recently, I finished my AMS certification in Upper Elementary Education, as well. I love spending time with my family, running outdoors and being with people who make my heart sing.”