October 15, 2011

Assessments for Children that Promote the Whole Child

The California Achievement Tests (CAT) are among the most widely used tests of basic academic skills for children from kindergarten through grade 12. The most recent edition of the CAT (the sixth) is also called TerraNova, Second Edition (or alternately, Terra-Nova CAT).
As I grew up, I took the CAT testing in grades 3 and up to measure progress in each grade level. Here is a current list of the skills tested in these assessments:

Areas TestedComplete Battery, grades 1 - 12
Gr. K-3
Approximate Work Time
Word Analysis: matching word sounds with pictures
16-20 min.
Vocabulary: reading and knowing the meaning of words
20-30 min.
Reading Comprehension: understanding what is read in pictures, poems, sentences and stories; analyzing and interpreting context, details and main ideas
30-50 min.
Language: spelling, capitalization, punctuation, usage, and expression
50-70 min.
Study Skills : reading maps, graphs and tables; alphabetizing, using an index, the dictionary and similar reference materials ; organizing and analyzing information
24 min.
Mathematics: concepts, problems, computation
50-70 min.
Science: life, earth and space sciences
20-30 min.
Social studies: history, economics, government, geography
20-30 min.
Approximate Total working time (not including instruction time)
3-4 hrs
5-6 hrs
Taken from: http://www.pesdirect.com/cat5.html

In my opinion, these tests do not take to mind the view of the whole child. This test does not assess social and emotional skills, physical skills, and how a child interacts with the world around them. There are many aspects to how and what a child learns. I think it is easiest to assess a child through interactions and observations. By observing what a child is doing with another child or on their own, a teacher or parent can see what the child has learned. Since children learn best through hands-on experiences, an assessment can be done through observation of a hands-on activity. For example, if trying to teach a preschooler how to use scissors, it is easiest to watch the child try to use the scissors and see how their fine motor control is. For a social assessment, you can observe the children during a "Show and Tell" activity and see how they interact, share, and communicate with others. There are much better ways to assess children than use of standardized testing.

Assessments in England:

In England, schools use a form of standardized testing that is called the National Curriculum.

According to the Government of the UK, The National Curriculum is a framework used by all maintained schools to ensure that teaching and learning is balanced and consistent.
It sets out:
  • the subjects taught
  • the knowledge, skills and understanding required in each subject
  • standards or attainment targets in each subject - teachers can use these to measure your child's progress and plan the next steps in their learning
  • how your child's progress is assessed and reported
Within the framework of the National Curriculum, schools are free to plan and organise teaching and learning in the way that best meets the needs of their pupils.
According to DirectGov, "the tests won’t give you a complete picture of how your child is doing at school – they provide a “snapshot”, showing how they performed in selected parts of a subject on a particular day. But schools can use the test results as an independent measure of how they, and their pupils, are doing compared to standards across the country."

This form of testing, again, does not support the holistic view of the child. By providing only a "snapshot" of how a child performs, you are not assessing the child in all areas of development. This is sad to me, because I know how poorly I performed on standardized tests such as the SAT in the United States. However, I had mostly As in all of my coursework in the classroom. Standardized tests do not "measure up." I would like to see standardized tests take the format of something like the Ages and Stages Questionnaire that assesses children in all domains, rather than subject areas. You can learn more about the Ages and Stages here: http://agesandstages.com/





  1. Hi Clara,

    it was very interesting to know more about the assessment in England since my daughter attend the British School curriculum. It was a great feedback for me.

    May we are all as the teacher/educator can do our best to teach and educate the children around us with the right and proper standard.

    Evita Kartikasari

  2. Clara,
    I agree that testing looses focus on the whole child and that social and emotional skills need to be considered, especially with so much aggressive behaviors in our country. I am also one of those students that never did great on SAT tests because they were timed and I felt pressure to finish fast and not focus on the questions.

  3. Hi Clara, you did such a outstanding job on your blog for testing for intelligence. I agree with you that testing is not the right way to go for every age of the child. In my personal opinion a child should be assessed on behaviors, personality, cognitive skills along with physical and other mental capabilites.

  4. I agree that testing should not measure a child's success but the Boards of Education feels that is the only way to fully assess this. How can we as educators change this? Do we go into the home and assess every child that walks into the classroom or do we have the time? These are questions I ask all the time.