Why Are Our Test Scores Low?

Low is a very relative term!  Let’s divide out two meanings.  First there is a low score according to the WV homeschooling law.  Alternatively, there is a parent’s perspective that the child’s scores are lower than should be expected for that child.

The law’s definition for “acceptable progress” is a mean (i.e., an average of the five required subjects) which falls within the 4th stanine OR that shows improvement from the previous year. Do note that the law references “consecutive” years.  If the mean (not individual scores) falls below the 4th stanine yet shows improvement from the previous year, this is acceptable.  The first year that acceptable progress is not made, a remedial program must be initiated.  The second consecutive year that progress is not made, “additional evidence” of appropriate instruction must be submitted to the county.  But the additional evidence is only needed if it’s the second consecutive year. As long as progress is seen (i.e., the mean score improves) every two years, the child never meets the requirement for “additional evidence” of appropriate instruction.  In other words, anytime acceptable progress is made for a single year, you start from scratch again.  More information about what is expected by law when the mean falls below the 4th stanine and has not shown improvement can be found in the article here.

Before the 2016 revision, students not making “acceptable progress” could actually be doing just fine because the standard was artificially high.  But the current 4th stanine is a reasonable standard and students who fall below it are indeed scoring below the average range.  It therefore behooves parents to determine why these students are scoring  below average – unless a reasonable cause is already known.

But let’s look at “low scores” unrelated to the WV code.  Because the WV code’s standard used to be the 50th percentile, parents often think that a score below 50 is not good.  But any score is relative to the specific child and half of all children should score below the 50th percentile by definition.  Besides, the “average range” begins at the 23rd percentile.  The more important question is whether your child is working to his or her ability.  Your child could be scoring in the acceptable range for the county while scoring well below his potential.  A child scoring at the 70th percentile may be scoring low for his potential while a child scoring at the 20th percentile may be scoring high for his potential.

The rest of this article, then, ignores the WV code’s  standard and deals with scores that are lower than reasonably expected, or scores that are less than the potential of the student.  Many possible causes can contribute to “low scores” when looked at from this broader perspective.

How long have you been homeschooling?  Was he or she struggling in another educational setting prior to homeschooling?  The WESTEST and nationally normed standardized tests are quite different and so a child might score quite differently on the two tests.  Is it possible that you are just now seeing evidence that your child has been struggling for a number of years?  If your ninth grader really has not mastered multiplication tables, for instance, you may need to patiently fill in many blanks in his or her math education while seeing low scores in the interim.  Therefore, determine whether these scores reflect what you have accomplished during homeschooling, or what happened educationally prior to homeschooling.

Is your child young?  Up until about second grade, the test items can be somewhat arbitrary. Distraction can also be more of an issue for younger children, especially active boys. Additionally, scores in the early years are not always predictive of later performance.  That is why many educators neither favor nor promote testing in the early grades.  Early testing can cause a teacher (parent) to unwittingly “label” a child as unable to do well, when in fact the child may only be immature.  Given time to mature a little, that child may soar!  So hold those early scores lightly.  Do take the trends into consideration, but wait until third grade to rely on them heavily.  Read more details here.

Does your child have an identified learning disability?  Ensure that you are using good educational methods so that he is working up to his potential.  Advice from another homeschool mom, a teacher, or a professional may help ensure that you are doing everything possible.  Then you can rest in God’s plan and provision.

Is your curriculum appropriate?  Does it meet the learning style needs of your children?  An overview of learning styles can be found here.  For help in interpreting the scores related to specific subject areas, see another article here.

Is your family overscheduled? Are you letting school work slide because you’re never home? It can be a temptation to participate in co-ops, play dates, and field trips while robbing needed time to actually complete “schooling.”  Or, it could be that Mom is overscheduled and expecting her children to school themselves.  Although many children become more self-sufficient in the high school years, good homeschool moms help their children gradually transition to this.  Even so, some children may continue to need more help than others or for longer than others.  Homeschooling must be a priority for mom (or whoever instructs); educating your child really is a fulltime job.  So perhaps Dad and Mom need to get out the calendar together and slash activities.  Parents must prioritize, and children are a priority second only to marriage.  (One year my husband made me practice saying “no” in a mirror, as in, “Would you be willing to teach the ladies’ Bible study?”  “No! I’m sorry; I can’t.”)

Have you had an unusual, but legitimate, issue this year?  A new baby?  An illness?  Family conflicts?  Although this shouldn’t be an every year occurrence, crises do occur and it’s an education for children to learn how to deal with them.  At the same time, however, help them learn (with you) how to get back on track as soon as possible.

Is it possible that your child is not learning because he or she does not listen to and obey you properly?  If you have not established loving authority in your home, I recommend that you find an older Christian couple who has well-behaved children that you admire, and talk openly with them to garner advice.  Pray and study Scripture.  Talk with your pastor. Perhaps consult time-honored books with a Biblical perspective. Be teachable, because your children are commanded by God to obey you and you must reach their hearts.

Is distraction a problem?  Is your daughter near puberty?  Was your son more interested in finishing quickly than doing his best on the test?  Then perhaps working on diligence will be key in improving next year’s scores.

And finally, if your child really is scoring below average ranges and you have noticed struggles and red flags, it may be time to contact an educational specialist.  Special needs assessments are available through the public school as well as through private institutions.  In addition, CHEWV can recommend certified teachers with special needs experience who are available for consultations.

Regardless of why you have unexpectedly low scores, be teachable.  Take an honest look at what is happening at home and make changes accordingly.  Be willing to line up those changes according to Scriptural priorities.  It might be easier and tempting to give up and put them on the school bus, but is that really what God intended when He told you to bring them up to honor Him?  He will be faithful to you, even when the going seems rough.  Don’t grow weary and give up. Rather, lean on good friends who can encourage you to stay the course!

So, many changes may be needed as you assess why your child scored low.  Everything from changing his peer group to changing your teaching style could be in order.  However, test scores are only one of many indicators you should use in assessing your child’s learning.

May the Lord guide and direct as you seek His help.  And may your entire family be blessed as you invest in your children!

 And let us not be weary in well doing:
for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Gal. 6:9