Bristow Montessori Students Score High on Iowa Tests


Most schools give tests throughout the year so when students take standardized tests, one would think they would pass with flying colors, but often this is not the case. Perhaps that is because taking tests is not akin to learning.

Bristow Montessori School (BMS) takes a different approach. Their kindergarten through third grade students do not take tests or quizzes; it is simply not part of the curriculum. Instead, they are assessed more authentically on their ability to master a skill and teach it to their classmates.

However, this past year, the administration at BMS thought it would be beneficial to give the students at least one standardized test so that parents could measure their children’s progress. They decided upon the Iowa Basic Skills Test.

“We wanted to have a benchmark, because there is not testing in Montessori,” said Anita Ercole, a BMS teacher who teaches first through third grade in a combined classroom.

Along with information for parents, the Iowa test would also provide a concrete score that students could take with them when they graduate from Bristow Montessori upon the completion of the third grade. Whether they are headed to a public or private institution, BMS administrators felt that information would be useful as they enter a new learning environment.

“We wanted them to go away with some kind of tangible benchmark of where they are in comparison to their peer group,” Ercole said.

Amazingly enough, after little exposure to tests, all of the BMS students scored within a high percentile of their age group, making them advanced in math and reading.

“They all scored above their grade level,” Ercole said. “Some students were reading at a 6th grade level, and even one first grade student "was off the charts."

Ercole is not surprised. She is a big believer in the Montessori philosophy, which emphasizes students working at their own pace and co-teaching their peers. Rather than having the teacher instruct all of the students at once, in a Montessori setting, students take more personal responsibility for their education.

“They know that there are certain expectations that they have to do. They choose what they do, and when they do it,” Ercole said.

As a result, children learn naturally and grow to love learning. Ercole believes that is one reason many of her students scored so highly on their Iowa’s. Another reason is that a Montessori education helps children to develop a large vocabulary through an emphasis on silent reading.

“They are avid readers. Of course, vocabulary increases with reading,” she said

And although students do not take weekly tests, they demonstrate skills mastery in other ways.

“They are more used to doing individualized research, finding information and summarizing it,” Ercole said.

These assignments demonstrate a child has learned high level thinking skills.

Ercole said the administration at Bristow Montessori School have decided to continue to give their elementary students annual Iowa tests. While it was meant to provide information about the students, it has also provided a benchmark for the school to assess the success of its own philosophy, curriculum and implementation.

Bristow Montessori School is located on Devlin Road at Bristow Commons. BMS offers infant and toddler daycare, pre-K classes, and kindergarten through third grade classes all taught in the Montessori philosophy of education.

Readers can contact Bristow Montessori School via their website or by calling 703-468-1191.

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