Standardized Testing in the Homeschool: Yes or No?

 

 

Last week was the week that our private school/homeschool group held their annual standardized testing service.

We rarely have our kids tested for a variety of reasons that I will discuss in a minute.  However, this year my two 9th-graders took the test which had me pondering and rethinking my position on whether or not and under what conditions to have our kids take a yearly standardized test.

As I waited outside the testing room for my kids, I had the opportunity to talk with other moms about their take on testing and the answers were as numerous as the conversations that were held.  It seems everyone has a slightly different view on testing – which is prone to change over time I might add.

For those of you who are on the fence or wondering, I thought I would share my thoughts.

 

Should I Test in Homeschool

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Common Reasons Homeschoolers Use Standardized Tests

It seems the main reason homeschoolers choose to have their kids tested every year or every few years is to have an objective measurement of how they are doing.  Perhaps they are new to homeschooling and want the reassurance that they are indeed covering the bases.  Often times, testing can provide doubtful extended family members the proof that homeschooling really ‘works’.

I talked with one mom who tested her older sons because she felt that they were unrealistic about their academic progress.  She felt they were not progressing as well as they seemed to think. Sharing test scores with them, she felt, would be a reality check that they needed.

Some homeschool parents choose to have their kids participate in yearly testing to prepare them for future test taking.  Our homeschool group encourages students to begin taking the PSAT as early as 6th grade to get used to taking the test.  I assisted in proctoring the PSAT testing this year at our school and saw and amazing amount of young students calmly and confidently attacking the test.

 

Common Reasons NOT to Use Standardized Tests

It has long been my understanding that the mass education of our nation’s children, necessarily requires a strategic amount of organization to avoid chaos.   Thus you have classes of children, organized by age, all studying basically the same thing across the state or nation.  These guidelines are useful for making sure that a child doesn’t miss American History study because he or she moved between grades and the new school was on a different schedule.  It certainly makes sense from an organizational standpoint.

As homeschoolers I see that we operate more as private tutors.  Our mostly one-on-one or one- on two or three requires that our students engage.  Regardless of which homeschool method we use and whether or not we use a curriculum with chapter tests, etc. we are engaging with, talking to and constantly assessing our kids knowledge, however informally.

Certain subjects, such as math, lend themselves fairly well to organization.  A good math curriculum will challenge your child at what ever grade they are in and if the program is finished, we all know that they are acheiving at least at grade level.

Subjects like History and Science become a little less clear.  With thousands of years of history and vast amounts of scientific knowledge that there is to learn about, how to choose the questions that really reflect a student’s understanding of a subject?

I recall an experience when our oldest was 6 and we were newly homeschooling.  We were reading about American history by reading ‘living books’ about the life of the Pilgrims.  Living books are written about the period of time in an engaging story style.  We read a story of what life was like in England, why the Pilgrims were unhappy under British rule and why and how they came to leave for the now USA.  We had long talks about loving and serving God and the importance of following your beliefs and the idea of religious freedom.  One afternoon around this time, my son went to work with my husband  and was asked by a skeptic if he knew the name of the first president of the United States.  My son didn’t know – yet.

This person, formed an opinion of our ability to homeschool based on his own informal testing.  My husband came home somewhat rattled.  Why didn’t our son know who George Washington was?  Were we doing something wrong?  After talking and thinking it through, we realized that as homeschoolers, we would necessarily, from time to time, butt heads with the public school system.  In our effort to really educate our kids, to cause them to understand concepts and think deeply about issues of politics and faith, we were going to look a lot different thatn the mile wide and inch deep education that we had both received in the organized and homogenized public school setting.

 

Learning Differences and Standardized Testing

Our thoughts on whether or not to use standardized testing in our homeschool was made even more clear by the learning struggles that our kids have.  Dyslexia is characterized by average to above-average intelligence with a processing glitch in the language arts.  This makes reading slow and comprehension (through reading) weak.  This does not mean that dyslexic kids are not smart or that they are not learning at or above grade level.  It does mean that testing them through their weakest learning pathway will result in an inaccurate gauge of their knowledge.  Many dyslexic’s have brilliant minds and an unusual ability to see connections where others fail to see them.  They are big picture kind of thinkers – not so much into the little details.  Is one kind of knowledge better than another?  Who is to say?

Why We Have Used Standardized Testing in Our Homeschool

I began this post with saying that our two 9th-grades took the standardized testing this year.  It was the first time they took such academic testing, although one of them has done extensive academic and diagnostic testing with an educational psychologist for his dyslexia.  Why?  What was different about his year?  My reasons for having the kids tested this year was to prepare them for future testing that they may need to do, such as the PSAT or the SAT or any other type of job-related testing.  I wanted them to have the experience of sitting in the test room, focusing and budgeting time, filling in the bubbles and managing their various degrees of stress over the testing.  It was all of that and more, I assure you!

In our state, California, standardized testing for homeschoolers is not required.  Our particular homeschool group requires that each student passes a standardized test at the 12th grade level in order to graduate.  So far, all of our dyslexic, non-tested kids, took the test in 10th grade and passed at that level without trouble.  I have to admit, I wondered how they would do which is why we began the testing in 10th grade.

Finding Balance

In the end, the choice of whether or not to use standardized testing in the homeschool comes down to individual belief and choice.  Choosing a balanced approach to the testing question has worked well in our homeschool.  To test a child who is not reading well in that kind of environment would be necessarily agonizing and I would not do it to my kids.  Not only because it would be awful for the child, it would not provide any information that I don’t already possess, and it would not test them at their actual level of ability to learn.

Over the years, our family has worked through our understanding of testing and curriculums and what it means to really educate our kids.  What are your thoughts on testing in the homeschool?

 

Linking up today with:

Don’t foget to join us next week for the release of my new ebook, Dyslexia 101, along with some amazing giveaways!

 

Dyslexia 101

Marianne Sunderland

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Comments

  1. Our state requires that homeschooled children take a standardized test in grades 3 through 9, so I don’t really get the choice of whether to test or not—and when.

  2. Jennifer says:

    My state also requires annual testing. I don’t think annually is necessary, but I do it because I have to. Honestly if I didn’t have to I would still test but not annually. I feel it gives them the opportunity to know how to take that kind of test, as well as gives me the ability to truly see how they are doing. There is another test that I use for my children that is simple and shorter then the rest. It’s called the BASI. It’s only two hours long and fulfills the requirements that I have in my state. One thing that I try to remember is that this is not a pass or fail kinda test. I don’t put pressure on my kids to do well. They do the best they can. There is no trauma from taking these tests because they don’t have to pass it to go on to the next grade.

    • Marianne says:

      Those are great tips Jennifer. I try to tell them that too. The test is really an indicator of how on track we are as a whole, teacher and student! I’ll have to look into the BASI. Sounds interesting. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I am blessed to live in a no regulation state so testing is not required. I plan to follow a similar balance that you have, we won’t start standardized tests until high school age. I have different reasons. When I was in school I loved standardized tests. I know I am a bit weird, but I am very good at taking tests. In many ways school became more about doing well on the tests than actually learning. I did learn a lot in school because I learned easily, but there was no need to dig deeper since I already knew enough for the test. I don’t want my girls to think testing has anything to do with learning. I do want my girls to take the PSAT as I received a college scholarship as a result of my score, so I will give them some practice starting around 9th grade. They also may participate in competitive academic activities which may involved tests if they desire. But I definitely want to avoid the regular elementary standardized tests. Also I have a feeling my younger daughter will be slightly more academically proficient than my still bright older daughter, I don’t really want them to be comparing “who is smarter” any more than necessary.

    • Marianne says:

      I love your thinking, Debbie. I also was a good test taker but really did not learn how to learn until after college when I learned things for my own interests. Another way to prepare for the PSAT is to take one section of one of the tests each week taken out of a practice book. They are great for familiarizing the kids with what the tests are like. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  4. Stephanie says:

    Your children that passed the 12th grade test in 10th grade, did you let them graduate early? I know that’s not really the point of your post, but I just wondered. Our state requires either annual testing or a portfolio review. I have opted to do the portfolio. I don’t like the idea of standardized testing (my oldest is 8, we will do the PSAT and all when they get there), if I wanted my children to be “standard” I’d have sent them to public school. I figure that I know that they’re learning, so I don’t really care how they compare to other kids.

  5. I live in a state where testing is required annually for all students between ages 7 and 15, In some ways it’s kind of nice to not have to struggle over the decision making to test or not — it’s just one of the requirements to follow. I think I would be inclined to test at least every other year even if it weren’t required, just to make sure my kids are comfortable with the standardized testing process.

    Since it is an annual requirement, there are a lot of ways to meet it. here. A lot of families I know actually hire someone to administer the Peabody test, which is an oral exam — nice for kids for whom the traditional testing situation is not such a good fit. Some parents just administer a test at home themselves. We do it with our co-op, since I prefer not to administer a test to my own kids. I am afraid I would end up “helping” them in some way!

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