Standardized testing often gets a bad rap in the homeschool world. After all, testing is a public school thing. Public schools have come to rely on test scores for funding, teacher promotions, grade promotions, and school excellency awards; and many base their entire curriculum on test prep. When the progress of hundreds of children requires evaluation, a simple, straightforward method is appealing. Only…it isn’t a simple, straightforward method, and this is why testing gets a bad rap. Public schools mostly concentrate on two scores – reading and math – to make a determination of a child’s intelligence. How fair or accurate is that?
As a homeschool mom who has been utilizing standardized testing for my students’ annual assessment for 30 years, I have a totally different perspective of testing. In fact, I look forward to the testing process and results because of the benefits!
● Comparison. The test compares my student’s education with other students of the same grade level. This may seem contradictory and surprising, but hear me out! I am not comparing my students’ intelligence! I am comparing their education. Unlike the standard public school education, homeschoolers utilize various curricula and teaching methods. When I see my student score average or above average in math, it assures me that my student’s math curriculum is working and he is understanding basic math principles. If my student’s rank in math is below average, it could mean the math curriculum I chose is not challenging him, he isn’t grasping as well as I thought, it was a bad day for a test, or he froze! There are many reasons for a below average score, but the ability to compare gives me pause and helps me to thoughtfully determine why the score was on the low end. Comparing can be useful!
● Consistency. Throughout the years, we have only utilized two different standardized tests – Stanford 10 and IOWA. Using the Stanford for many years and then switching to the IOWA for the remaining years meant I could get a solid comparison of my students’ scores from year to year. It gave me a solid, steady base where I could monitor my student’s growth. In the early grades, scores are sometimes low due to the test being picture heavy and a young child’s perception of the pictures. I remember giggling when the kindergartners were quite perturbed about a picture question on a test…Milk comes from_____. The three choices were 1. goat 2. chicken 3. cow My farmer kids were not happy with this obvious city question!
● Experience. At some point in time, all of us are usually placed in a situation where we need to take a test for a scholarship, job, for college entrance exams (PSAT, SAT, or ACT), or to complete an important questionnaire. Being exposed to a pressure situation can produce, as my grandma would say, quick thinking on your feet! Experience making snap decisions is a useful tool in all areas of life. I didn’t want my students’ first time taking a test to be an important test like the SAT. I wanted my students to have a few years’ experience to establish a comfort level.
● Simplicity. I am not the type of person who would remember to place the report in a file or snap a picture of the project and add to a portfolio throughout the year. The end of the year would mean a mad search through piles of paper, documents, and pics. Not to mention, there were years we did not have much actual work (in the traditional sense) to even create a portfolio. For me, this spelled S-T-R-E-S-S. Going to our local testing center was a car ride away with the promise of a two day break from school, hanging with friends during breaks, and a pizza party at the end.
● Grade Equivalency (GE). GE is another piece of my assessment puzzle. Before explaining why this is helpful, let me explain what it is NOT. It is NOT to show the grade level of your student in a particular subject. Your first grader with a 6.2 GE is not on 6th grade level reading and ready for 6th grade reading assignments. The GE DOES mean that the 1st grader’s performance on the 1st grade subject is what would be expected of the average 6th grader on the same 1st grade test. Such a GE means the 1st grader has a thorough mastery of the material covered on the 1st grade test. A higher GE, therefore, is a huge confirmation that my curriculum, teaching methods, and student are all on the right track. On the other hand, if the GE is lower, it could be another indication I may need to make some adjustments and tweak what we are doing for that subject. I may also need to look at any factors which could have resulted in a lower GE, such as age/maturity, interest in the subject, an illness, or a distraction.
● Community-mindedness. Lastly, standardized testing meant something bigger than just our own family’s assessment. I knew CHEWV used the results of the standardized test to create meaningful statistics to show legislators the results of home education. Some scores are high. Some are low. But the stats show homeschooling does not adversely affect education quality. The public schools have their stats and we can unashamedly show the homeschooling stats. Compiling these statistics made important impacts when homeschoolers lobbied to remove the notorious 4 year requirement, get the portfolio option, gain diploma fairness, Promise Scholarship equity, and improvements in reporting to the county.
Standardized tests have their place. The test is not a definitive measure of your student’s knowledge or intelligence. The test is a tool which, if understood properly, can give insights into your educational methods. Tools are used to create products, but tools are not used to define products. Similarly, a parent should not apply a pass/fail mentality, but more of a search-and-find mentality where the standardized test provides clues. The student may have a really low math score this year, but looking at the clues within the test results of how or why there is a low score is of greater importance than the fact the score was low.
The CHEWV website is a huge help in understanding the benefits reaped from standardized testing. Under the testing section you’ll find great articles of explanation and encouragement for standardized testing. My favorites are “Temptation, Truth & Test Scores” and “Why Are Our Test Scores Low?” These help explain valid reasons for student scores and, more importantly, remind us that the annual assessment is merely a tool to help parents learn, contemplate, and adjust. Of course, by law homeschoolers are required to obtain an annual assessment – so we test to comply with the law. But really, the assessment is for us!