Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Atrium Testings

An inherent feature of a Montessori environment is the high amount of real-life immediate feedback on the learning of the children.

Another inherent feature is faith that the planting of seeds will sprout forth in their own due time.

However, when you are in a parish with archdiocese requirements. Guess what? You might have to do outside testing. Same goes for many academic Montessori classes.

The difference? Well, there is no inherent difference actually. Only in the reactions that some people have. School-based tests are taken far more seriously, even if the schools don't always place much weight on the results. In our area, it seems the religious education tests are seen as a nuisance at worst, with meaningless results that no-one cares about. So it's sort of like, "Why bother with them?"

As Montessori as I am - I feel the need to take these tests seriously. Why? Out of respect for the archbishop who is requesting they be done.

And besides - why NOT compare our parish children to others? No names are on these tests, we're not supposed to read the test responses - so none of us will ever know how any given child responded - and frankly, that bothers me. I don't need to know specific children, but I *would* like to know if 90% of my 5th graders can't answer a particular question with the answer "vocation". That means I need to emphasize that word (we utilize it in the level 3 atrium, but from a prophetic standpoint - not yet at a personal level (that is more an adolescent focus, but if our archdiocese wants these children to understand the concept of vocation - then OUR responsibility as catechists is to make it happen)).

For me, this all comes down to respect for authority. The Bishop (archbishop) has jurisdiction over our geographical area. HE is the model of the Good Shepherd for us. Unless he is requesting sinful actions of us, we are to respect his leadership, the educational standards he approves for our area and his authority as a shepherd of us, his flock.

Those test results, if we're going to provide them at all, should be utilized - they are a gauge for how well our parishes are fulfilling the archdiocesan faith formation standards. If we are consistently missing the boat, time to fill in that hole - not simply say, "We just see how the children grow from one testing year to the next year that they test in." Again I say - if there are gaps between what the archdiocese wants and what is testing for as compared to the knowledge our children are consistently showing - the very respect due to the diocesan leadership is to fill those gaps.

Here I paste a portion of a recent e-mail message:

It's really, truly not a big deal; there are no consequences for passing or failing - but it is an interesting assessment nonetheless. The questions are not worded with the greatest clarity either so the results will be interesting and we'll leave it at that ;)

However, it is important to realize what the archdiocese thinks is important and to show respect for and obedience to our archbishop, who wants the tests administered and taken seriously.

No, I will not "teach" to the test, but there are a few terms to be incorporated into our usual presentations in such a way that they become familiar to the children - not for the test, but for respect for the authority inherent to our church and archdiocese - you could say that I can, should and DO teach to the archdiocesan standards, with which the test is mostly correlated:
  • evangelize 
  • evangelization 
  • vocation (in a more personal sense than our prophet studies) 
  • evangelist (as in the Gospel writers) 
  • specifically listing the types of prayers 
  • familiarity with the basic hierarchy of the church and incarnation. 
These are all CONCEPTS we already cover - and cover quite well when the children are engaged; but we don't always use these terms in a way that translates into what non-atrium children are speaking (this happens in academic Montessori environments too).

Regarding those standards - as compared to the atrium:
No curriculum fits the standards to a T. There are approved published texts, but none are a perfect match. Thus there will be gaps between the book-learning and the arch/diocese standards (same thing happens in academic schools).

As a Montessori environment, the atrium (just as an academic Montessori class) provides several wonderful blessings --- not only can we provide what the universal child needs at a particular stage of development, honing in on the developmentally appropriate key tenets of our Faith, but we can also meet the needs of individual children and their particular interests. In addition, we have the benefit of ensuring that any local educational standards can be met 100%. That doesn't mean every child "gets" or understands or retains everything, but that we are indeed able to provide everything - and at least plant seeds for later development.

Items added to the atrium to match the archdiocese standards:
  • the booklet on the types of prayer
  • booklet on the hierarchy of the Church
  • vocations
  • I still need to determine the best route for introducing the social justice principles into our particular environment - likely with the virtues work, but I'm not 100% sure yet.


  1. Beverley - GA - Level III atriumFebruary 12, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    This is fascinating! Might you be able to forward any information about the test that is given? Is it a prepackaged program available for sale or is it something your Archbishop has authored? Thank you for the always honest and inspirational insights into your atrium.

    1. Beverley,

      The one we are using here is the same as the archdiocese next to us - but it seems to be an updated version (the questions are essentially the same, but I saw one difference in the personal beliefs section (options of multiple choice)).
      It is the ACRE that we are using - given in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades.

      Previously we were using Faith 2000 and I I didn't really care that much about it - for some reason, this year, I care. I think because it IS a Montessori principle to develop responsibility and respect for authority - and this is one way we do it - the archbishop can't get to every parish every year and interview every single child! :)

      Am I excited about the test? Not a chance. I do wish it was written better; I would like to see one that really covers things comprehensively - but it is not terrible either.


      God bless!