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Standardized Testing in a Homeschool Setting

standardizedTonight I told my son that I was going to order a test for him.   At first he was confused.  I then explained that it was the test with little bubbles that he fills in with a pencil.  He smiled and immediately said “I can’t wait to do that again!”

Public School vs. Homeschool

Standardized tests are the norm in schools.  With pressure often put on kids to perform and tons of time spent in test-prep and testing, it isn’t a pleasant experience for kids or teachers.

In a homeschool setting, standardized testing can be quite different especially if a child hasn’t been exposed to the testing culture in schools.  In actuality the time needed to do test-prep in a homeschool setting is just the time needed to explain how to color in the little bubble.  Aside from the testing days and the 5 minutes of preparation, the rest of the school year can be spent actually educating.

Back in ancient times when I was in school, we had standardized tests for a couple of days each year.  I loved those days because the typical day was put aside for something new.  Homework-free nights made things even better.  Testing days were just a blip in our school year.  There was no pressure or test preparation.

So when I decided to administer standardized tests to my children, I wanted to bring some of the warm memories into our days.  For about 3-4 days each school year my kids rotate taking subtests.  When one child is completing a subtest, my other kids are downstairs doing something they enjoy.  My kids have come to really look forward to these days.

Why give standardized tests in a homeschool?

Personalizing my children’s education is one of the top reasons we homeschool.  While I am well aware of my children’s skills from being involved in their day-to-day learning, I find that standardized tests are a useful tool as a home educator.

Each year I consider which testing option would give me the most information.  I like information.  The more data I have about what my kids know or how they learn, the more I can personalize their education.  I like to use a test that covers lots of subjects and prefer to use a level where my child will not get most things right.

When the testing is completed, I look over the test and analyze which items were missed and which items were correct.  Even though I am aware of my children’s skills, I find that a standardized test will give me an additional window into their skills and knowledge that I can sometimes miss in day-to-day homeschooling.  Yes, I’ve discovered some holes in my child’s education because a standardized test showed me something that I missed.

There have been times when I didn’t choose the right test or the right level.  This left me without much useful information to further personalize my child’s education.

Some tips

The first and second grade level tests are listening based.  I learned the hard way that this will skew the results.  In other words, it tested everything through my child’s ability to listen.  If you have a child who is somewhat inattentive, this doesn’t work so well.

Out of level tests can be given if your child is getting most things correct.  So if your child is in 3rd grade, you can administer the 4th or 5th grade test.  Scoring is done by comparing your 3rd grader’s scores to what other 3rd graders scored on the 4th or 5th grade test problems.  Contact the test provider if you would also like your child’s scores compared to the higher grade level.

Analyzing the correct and incorrect answers will give you more information than the test score.   I spend several hours analyzing each child’s responses. I consider their day to day work, if we have covered that topic, or other reasons why it was missed or answered correctly. I consider subjective things like whether I thought the child missed something because of carelessness, misunderstanding, or divergent thinking. I also consider if they may have simply guessed correctly on some of the correct answers. I use the tests as a tool to help me guide my children’s learning rather than just a score.  On an aside, I used to work with children who had speech and language difficulties.  Once I completed the assessments, I would go over them and analyze the responses to figure out the best way to help the child.  I do the same thing now, but I use the standardized test as a tool.

The Stanford Test is untimed, but it is being discontinued.  The IOWA test is another one we have used, but it is timed.  I think there was only one subtest where my kid wasn’t done when time was up, so using a timed test isn’t much of an issue here.  I’ve ordered my tests through BJU.

In our homeschool

This year I’m doing something different with each of my kids because they have differing needs.

My oldest will be doing SAT practice tests and possibly some SAT subject practice tests.  The last few out of level standardized tests that I gave him didn’t yield much information, so I wanted to give him some tests that would give me a better idea of his strengths and weaknesses.  Plus it is good practice.   I had considered having him take the SAT this year, but decided against it when I heard they were changing the SAT.

My current 5th grader will be doing the IOWA test again.  It was extremely helpful last year and the information that I obtained from analyzing his correct and incorrect answers led me to make some changes in focus this school year.  Doing the IOWA again will give me additional information because I can analyze his previous scores with this years scores to give me even more information.  Last year was the first year that he did the IOWA.  He had previously used the Stanford which is untimed.  He tended to finish the IOWA subtests early and has no qualms with time pressure.  When I heard that the Stanford was being discontinued, I knew that we would go with the IOWA.

My 1st grader isn’t going to be doing a standardized test.  Next year I plan to have her go through pycho-educational testing so the first year she will be doing standardized achievement tests is in 3rd grade.  This year I may find a few little reading or math assessments online so she can join in the fun if she wants.

I’m not advocating that standardized tests be used by homeschoolers.  I’m just stating that they can be a useful tool to help the parent personalize their child’s education.  They sure have been useful around here.

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Want to find out what other homeschoolers think about standardized testing?  Various bloggers associated with Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum recently discussed the issue.

3 Comments:

  1. I used the IOWA with my 1st grader this year to get an overall picture of how she’s doing. I agree with your thoughts about the listening portions. There were a few times that she sat “thinking” and I asked her if she was going to fill in the answer, and she’d reply “oh yeah! I was thinking and forgot we were doing this!” All in all it went well and I’m glad she did it.
    Nicole Linn recently posted…The Art of Carefully Stepping Out of the WayMy Profile

  2. My children, grades 7, 6, and 3, took standardized tests for the first time this year. I did do a small amount of test prep the week before, mostly on test-taking skills like time management, narrowing down answers to make “educated guesses” if needed, etc.

    I didn’t know the Stanford is being discontinued. I think untimed tests would be best for one of my children, so I was planning on using it in the future. I wonder if there are any other untimed alternatives?

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