This summer I took my oldest daughter, Julia, to tour colleges in New England. Julia, holds the second-longest attendance record in our school – 12 years. She was eclipsed by her friend, Josie, who attended for 12 1/2 years. As teenagers, this is important to them.
Julia and I have a lot of conversations about college and the ACT/SAT. For me, a Montessorian and parent, I don’t put a lot of weight on standardized test scores. There are many, many reasons for this. Learning can be demonstrated in better and more effective ways than answering questions correctly on a standardized test. Children, like adults, have off days and often, those days are the result of feeling pressure to “be the best” or “this test will dramatically impact your future,” or “you must do well to get into a good school.” In reality, a student’s work and portfolio, if you will, is a much better indicator of how much that child knows.
Of the five schools we visited this summer, ALL were test optional. ALL were far more interested in learning about the student versus their testing scores. Bowdoin College, in 1969, was the first university to do away with standardized testing requirements. Instead, they look at who applicants are as people, what do their teachers have to say, and how will they fit into the school’s culture? These are the important things in life and in learning. These are the factors that determine how you will do in college – not a test score.
At The Montessori School, we participate in standardized testing starting in 3rd grade. The purpose of it is two-fold: 1) it is good practice for our students for when they leave us (think practical life skills) and 2) it gives us an opportunity to assess ourselves – where can we do better? How can we improve? The first year we proctored the ACT Aspire, we realized we needed to work more with our students on short-answer questions. We then made changes in our curriculum to better meet the needs of our students.
Our students find standardized testing fun. We don’t talk about it at all until about two weeks before the testing when they practice. After they finish the testing, we don’t talk about it again. There is no pressure on them. They never hear “this will be on the test.” Our staff are not evaluated on how their students perform.
For us, the work we see throughout the year and the gained knowledge they show us through projects, daily work, and teaching each other is far more important than testing scores.The Montessori approach to learning places emphasis on mastery. Mastery of knowledge stays with you far longer than memorizing information does.
That being said, this year, in the midst of COVID with some students participating in distance learning, some students on campus, and none of our classrooms interacting in their usual way, our students scored higher on the ACT Aspire than ever before.
English – 81% of students Ready or Exceeding
Reading – 61% of students Ready or Exceeding
Science – 68% of students Ready or Exceeding
Math – 68% of students Ready or Exceeding
While these test scores are important to us for the reasons mentioned above, they also reflect the deep learning that happens in a Montessori environment. When learning is fun and welcoming, students will excel.
When Montessori students leave our school, they are well prepared for the next phase of their education. Their outlook on learning is different from their peers. Their attitude about school is different. Montessori students love to learn and that is a trait that will help them find success in college and in life.