A friend of mine and I were talking about our increasingly difficult battle with “middle aged spread” and she shared with me that she was attending an exercise class at the local gym. Last week during class, my friend caught a glimpse in the mirror on the wall behind her -- black yoga tights, white tee-shirt. “Wow!” she thought, “these exercises are really working! I’m looking so much better back there! So fit!!” Undoubtedly, feeling so good about herself, she put a little extra into her steps, some extra push into those arm extensions and basked in the pleasure of her success.
Then the routine called for a turn and she noticed the younger, dark haired woman to her side - wearing black yoga pants and a white tee-shirt. A quick glance back confirmed the dismal truth – the backside she’d been looking at was not her own!
We nearly wrecked the car laughing over this story three days later. However, at the time she realized her realization that it wasn’t her own back-side that was looking so fit, her attitude and pleasure in the class was dampened. Her success in the class – moderate though it may have been – was seriously diminished by the incident.
When it comes to testing their children, homeschool mothers can easily fall prey to the same trap my friend did. When we look back at our year to gauge our progress with the test scores, the image we compare to should be our own. Looking at someone else’s performance or success is not only un-helpful; it most often leads to discouragement.
I have found that I am more vulnerable than many to this trap because I do see so many children’s progress as it is reflected in test scores. This year I consulted a friend on her child’s test scores and while I rejoiced with her that her daughter’s scores we all very high, I found myself comparing her child with my daughter (who is the same age). I hated to see that “our” scores (because don’t we all really look at the test as “our” evaluation as well?) – our scores were not quite so good. In fact, I felt many different emotions in rapid succession:
- Jealous that her child had such higher performance marks
- Frustration and self blame that I can’t seem to get this right after so many years
- Anger that my child didn’t do the long division (because she didn’t want to bother with the big numbers!), the decimals or two of the fractions which I KNOW for a fact she can work accurately in her sleep
Sad that we were measured and found lacking
Abruptly, I realized that the root cause of all those emotions was my own sinful pride. I was jealous because *I* wanted to be able to look at 99%tiles (even if only privately) – and jealousy is step away from bitterness. I was frustrated because I felt that *I* was the total cause for academic success or failure which *I* measure by test scores. I was angry that my child could have gotten a much higher math score had she not left those problems blank – and *I* would have had more validation (ouch, that one hurt!)
What a sad commentary on myself. I really thought I’d conquered those demons years ago. I do honestly KNOW that there is more to achievement than test scores –
- Many children who are very bright have very average performance on tests (studies have shown that the majority of highly successful adults had very average SAT Scores – our President for instance!)
- My child’s performance was a reflection of the strengths and difficulties which are not entirely dependant on our school experience.
- That test scores are not meant to validate ME as a parent, a teacher or a person. Nor are they validation for my child and my child’s performance shouldn’t be such a big part of my own self-esteem.
The worst part of this whole experience was that the negative focus – we didn’t score as well as this other person – destroyed the thrill I should have gotten from a huge gain in reading skill and comprehension! That was really a major area of concern which we had addressed over the year. In that area, not only could I see progress in our daily interaction, but the test scores reflected that progress numerically.
I was so busy making comparisons with another individual that I failed to appreciate the significant growth within the only individual who counted – my own child.
This whole pride thing could have worked the other way. I could become prideful if my child consistently scored better than her peers. I could assume that these scores were a total reflection of my superior methods or abilities, or my child’s superior accomplishments and worth. I could assume that others would score this way if they used the “right” curriculum, or did it the “right” way.
Both attitudes are wrong. Measure you child and yourself against himself. The value of test scores may be to evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum – which you can change. The test scores should not be a measure of your child personally or their potential in the future.