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Sanctification through Testing

It’s testing season! In the thoughtful article below, Kate Deddens discusses the spiritual reasons to practice standardized testing with your kids. To register for onsite testing near you or online testing, please use these links:

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Are our children eternal souls, created imago Dei? Or, are our children “end-products,” the consequences of “schooling” which must be evaluated by standardized testing?

This is one of the most important questions parents can ask, because the secular worldview regards standardized testing as the accurate measure of a child’s value—of his or her intrinsic worth. Unless parents consider it carefully, we risk falling into that worldview, which relies heavily on standardized testing but demonstrates repeatedly—with low test scores and falling literacy rates—that its ideology and methodology are terribly flawed.

So, why test at all? The truth is, testing is not the problem. Testing, in all its varieties (oral drilling, dialogue, debate, public presentation, essay writing, fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice, and so on), has always been an educational tool. However, the idolization of testing which results from our society’s subjugation of learning to the tyranny of materialistic philosophy (reducing everything, including human souls, to quantifiable elements) is a grave problem. It has at least three serious flaws: the presumption that students can be evaluated with a method that quantifies their very souls by assigning them number values—“scores;” the assumption that such tests are comprehensive, composed of elements which actually constitute an “education;” and the fact that after decades of emphasis on such testing, the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities in students is dramatically declining.

Testing has clear pedagogical value. This must be weighed, however, against the cultural pressure to use testing to “measure” a student, which instigates a dangerous trend: dictating both the curricula as well as the methods, and prompting the temptation to pragmatically “teach to the test.” As Christian parents who are deeply involved with our children’s education, we need to articulate not only good, but Scriptural, reasons for testing. Only then can we consider the question of whether standardized testing fits into our vision for our children’s education.

Indeed, there are profound Scriptural reasons for testing. Each of the areas discussed below are biblical skills fostered by testing. Each of these skills in turn instills biblical character traits. Both the skills and the characteristics are means through which sanctification occurs.

Trusting Submission: The psalmist cried: “Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and mind” (26:2, NIV); and “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (139:23, NIV). Christians are to trust in the Lord, to submit to His inspection. When we are tested, we are scrutinized and assessed. Likewise, when we train our students to take tests, they practice submitting themselves to scrutiny and assessment. We encourage them to do this with faith that it will mold them towards excellence. Students thereby learn to submit to the Lord’s testing, and to welcome His scrutiny. The skill of submission produces the characteristic of trust in God.

Knowledgeable Self-Evaluation: Galatians advises each of us to “test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load” (6:4-5, NIV).This is the skill of self-evaluation: critically examining ourselves, gauging our strengths and weaknesses in order to fulfill God’s purposes. Lamentations exhorts us to “examine our ways, and test them, and…return to the LORD” (3:40, NIV). Scripture thus advocates self-learning: we learn to stay on the right path through self-inspection. Academic testing teaches this, for when we err we know where to go back for additional review. When encouraged to approach testing this way, students learn to lead an examined life which elicits self-knowledge; students identify their talents, understand their limits, grasp their potentials, and perceive when they need to turn to others for assistance. Paul affirms this in Romans: “[T]hink of yourself with sober judgment…Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body…We have different gifts…” (12:3-6, NIV). Paul is encouraging balanced self-evaluation, so Christians understand where, when, and how to serve.

Discerning Obedience: Testing fine-tunes the skill of discernment; we discern truths about the world by testing it. The scientific method is the clearest example of this. As students experience a variety of testing methods, they gain insight into the process of testing itself—in other words, they learn how to make their own tests and apply them. Scripture tells us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Th 5:21, NIV). Furthermore, Paul admonishes us to avoid being conformed “to the pattern of the world, but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV). We renew our minds through Christ; we are then instructed to be discerning. Thereby, we perceive the will of God. Through this process, we develop obedience. Students who are familiar with testing are able to be more obedient to the Lord.

When used appropriately as an educational tool—as a method of discipleship, and not as a label—testing imparts trusting submission, knowledgeable self-evaluation, and discerning obedience. These bring about sanctification. When we test our children, and teach them to test themselves and the world, we equip them for the time when God will “refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on [His] name and [He] will answer them; [He] will say, ‘They are my people;’ and they will say ‘The LORD is our God’” (Zec 13:9, NIV). We should, therefore, test our students in a variety of ways, we should test often, and we should train students to test well. Should we include standardized testing? Yes, as long as we uphold Scriptural purposes, test in broad ways, and avoid the pitfall of valuing the score more highly than the child. The benefits to our children will be manifold: they will flourish imago Dei, and they will also receive the rewards that our culture bestows on those who test well…for when we place the Scriptural principles first, blessings follow: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deut 28:2, NIV).

CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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