Here's a snippet of an article about standardized testing, by Susan Engels, in today's NY Times:
Instead, we should come up with assessments that truly measure the qualities of well-educated children: the ability to understand what they read; an interest in using books to gain knowledge; the capacity to know when a problem calls for mathematics and quantification; the agility to move from concrete examples to abstract principles and back again; the ability to think about a situation in several different ways; and a dynamic working knowledge of the society in which they live.I'm preparing to launch 4-H Chess Club for another year. I hope to reformulate the club as a group of high school kids helping me teach the elementary kids, while I reinforce the fun and challenge of all sorts of brain work with the high school kids. While I'm not a fan of standardized tests, I do take pride in seeing kids' intellects grow. The markers that Engels mentions in the above quote resonate with me as they reflect the themes of many of the informal conversations that erupt during chess club. I have one kid who likes to draw, not so much to read, but who has checked out and studied every drawing book in the school library. Snack time is always an exercise in practical mathematics -- chess players want everything to be fair even if it means dividing 36 cookies among eight people down to the last crumb. Chess pieces are metaphors for actual fighters; in elementary school kids move back and forth between the abstract idea of chess pieces fighting and the "real" fighting techniques of Star Wars characters. We learn en passant by acting it out on the checkered floor of the cafeteria. We practice the components of a classic handshake and the more nuanced art of losing and winning gracefully.
Engels' idea of a good test of a kid's intellect is to ask the child to read and discuss a book. I like to observe not only intellect, but perseverance and grace under pressure playing chess.