Friday, February 24, 2012

Considering Standardized Testing

Ah, spring! When a homeschooling mom's thoughts turn to standardized testing.

Or not.

In my state, we are required to administer a nationally-recognized standardized test every three years beginning in third grade. I know that some states require more, and others require less.

The homeschooling community's opinions on standardized testing vary greatly. (Quelle surprise, eh?) I know of homeschooling families who choose to test annually. These families regard the tests as general yardsticks: where within the "norm" does my child perform? A good score brings a sense of satisfaction. The child is learning what he or she should, based on a nationally-normed rubric. In essence, standardized testing proves that their home education program is successful.

For other families, the idea of standardized testing sets their teeth on edge. Their methods of education differ greatly from the national norm; why should they subject their children to a pointless exercise, needlessly upsetting the family with what is ultimately a huge waste of time? Moreover, the idea of any institutional intervention rankles.

Those who choose hybrid schools often have the decision made for them; the tests are administered annually, period. Perhaps a family that strongly objects would be given the option to decline the test. I don't know.

I'm in the middle. Since I'm required by law to have my children tested in three-year intervals, I do it. When Miss Priss was in fifth grade, I tested her then, too, just to "see." I've decided not to do the same with Tiny Girl.

I also choose to administer the test at home instead of taking my children to a testing venue. I find this produces far less anxiety and far less schedule interference. I've used two testing services: Family Learning Organization and Seton Testing Services. Both are good.

And there's a bit more to it. Since my children will undoubtedly take the ultimate in standardized tests -- the SAT -- in a few years, I think it's good for them to get a taste of standardized tests. I want them to be prepared when the time comes. Undue anxiety -- perhaps even shock -- is not the best internal atmosphere in which to approach the SAT. A little familiarity now will help later.

My public school friends, interestingly, seem to view standardized testing as a necessary evil. For some, it's a hoop to jump through. Either their child gets it or she doesn't. Others take a more serious view, going to what I see as great lengths to facilitate their child's good performance: tutoring, better than average meals during testing week, no playdates or activities during test week, etc. I was surprised when I recently learned that seventh-graders now take the SAT for early preparation. "What about the PSAT?" I asked. "Oh, we take that, too," my daughter's friend replied. Good grief.

Frankly, the public schools' penchant for testing is one of the things that turned me against public school and toward home education. When Miss Priss was in first grade, I was aghast to learn the volume of testing to which she was subjected. Some tests I knew about, such as our state's own standardized test. But others were never mentioned to parents. I guess the school kept parents on a need-to-know basis, and we didn't need to know.

Well. This is one parent who demands to know what's going on with my child.

What are your thoughts on standardized testing? Does your state require any? If so, do you comply? And for my international friends: does your country/region require testing for homeschooled children?


  1. I am right with you on standardized testing. We also use Family Learning Organization and only test when required. Now that my children are getting older and more are reaching 3rd grade, that does make for a busy spring some years. This year is a year off! Great information packed into this post. Thanks Ellen!

  2. Of course my laws are the same as yours. So far, I have used Seton Testing at home each year, really just to keep records. I feel like I have to be extra diligent in that sort of thing since youngest's dad could (although unlikely at this point) at some point dispute my homeschooling and I need to have all my ducks in a row to show that we're actually DOING something around here.

    Plus, I sort of feel like doing it each year makes it merely "a thing we do" instead of a big deal. I've only done it with my teen one year, but she's in public school this year so I don't have to this time around.

    Oh, and youngest also gets a kick out of filling in those bubbles, and thinks it's hilarious if I really read the script about waiting for the rest of the class to finish, etc. ;)

  3. I don't know enough about homeschooling in Scotland to answer the question about tests, but it is the case in Britain that if you want to gain high school qualifications you can only get them by sitting exams. (In Scotland, Standard Grades at 16 and Highers at 18; in England GCSEs at 16 and A-Levels at 18.) So I presume that home-schoolers must have to prepare their children for these exams?

  4. "why should they subject their children to a pointless exercise, needlessly upsetting the family with what is ultimately a huge waste of time" -this is my view. A waste of time.
    But we are required to either test annually or have a certified teacher assess them, via a portfolio.
    I had written a post about this on my blog and came to the conclusion I would do the portfolio route. Now I've changed my mind. What made me change? I don't see testing as 'evil' per se, just unnecessary. I started a portfolio but am not quite as organized as I'd like to be -yet. Testing was also cheaper than the options for us for assessments in our area. I still keep the kids' work for posterity.
    My kids have experience with testing already- they were in public school until 4th and 6th grades. One state required testing at determined intervals (much like yours it sounds) and another state did it every year (Wyoming- PAWS testing- *that* was a joke test if ever there was one- quite flawed imho).
    My kids don't mind testing either- they don't get nervous or stress. It's actually, for them, a break from school. We did testing and nothing else school-wise for the day. So about 2 hours of 'school' and then it's done.
    We used Seton Testing as well but I hadn't realized that there was more to test. If we go this route next year, I think I will try your other linked testing service- get the full battery of tests.
    They will be tested to get into college; they will be tested *in* college; I'm just preparing them ;)

  5. At our primary school (Devon, UK) the children have SATS tests every year from Year2 (age 6/7yrs). Their last year of Primary school in Year 6 (age11)is the most important and the results get published nationally and compared and the pressure is on for the school. Having said that, my son has really enjoyed doing them and scores very highly (100percent in last years maths year 6 SATS!)- which I am sure helps with his liking them *smile* They also get tested in Secondary school each term up until the big GCSEs. My daughter (year3) is so far okay with them and scores well but we do have to practice and help her understand some of the maths beforehand. I am not always for the pressure it puts them under but I think it does highlight areas they might not understand and other parts which they are good at. And its good preparation for other exams in the future. Yet I don't think it shows the whole picture of how able(or not) a child is.
    Zoe x


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