How To Test When It’s Required And Make The Best Choices About Testing When It’s Optional
When we think of testing, many of us think about long hours, sitting at uncomfortable desks, racking our brains in silence as we glance feverishly at the clock on the wall. Many of us will also experience leftover anxiety. In fact, excessive high-stakes testing may be one of the reasons that families choose to homeschool.
As a homeschooler, you may not want to put your child through the trauma of testing like you remember. You may think that testing is a waste of time that could otherwise be spent learning. You may also be terrified about what testing may reveal about how effective you have been as a homeschool teacher.
The truth is that some form of testing may have to be part of your homeschool in order to satisfy homeschool laws in your state or, if you are lucky, you may have options related to testing. Let’s explore whether you should incorporate testing in your homeschool and, if so, how best to do that!
|Optional Homeschool Testing|
Homeschool Testing Requirements
Although homeschooling is legal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, homeschool testing requirements are not universal. Some states require annual standardized testing for homeschoolers while others require standardized testing for homeschoolers at the end of only certain grade levels. Still others offer homeschool testing as one option for assessment, but parents may choose from a list, including methods like portfolio submission, alternative evaluation, or reviews by certified teachers in the state. There are also some states with minimal homeschool requirements that do not include any formal assessment of homeschoolers at all.
For those states where homeschool assessment is required, the process varies. In some states, school districts must administer and pay for homeschool testing. If this is your state, check for the date by which you need to make your request! In such states, often families have the option to request and pay for testing through a qualified independent tester outside of the school district. In other states, all homeschool families are required to pay for testing of their children. Some states share approved lists of tests that can be used to satisfy homeschool testing requirements while others simply describe what would be acceptable testing. Even results are handled differently by individual states, with some requiring submission of test scores to school districts and others simply requiring parents to maintain records of test scores in the event the education system requests them.
Finally, results of required homeschool testing are also treated differently from state to state. Even though homeschoolers may tend to score higher on certain tests than their public-school peers, passing requirements for homeschoolers are typically low (e.g., above the 30th percentile), but vary by state. Rather than using passing scores for students with disabilities, some states simply require documentation of progress each year. Generally, if a homeschooled child does not receive the required minimum score (or show adequate progress), the homeschool may be placed on probation and may receive supportive remediation services. If a child continues to not succeed at the minimum levels, some states require hiring of tutors or the return of that child to public or private school.
As you can see, the most important step you can take to ensure that you are meeting homeschool requirements in your state is to check your local homeschool laws. To help you on your quest, here are links to information about homeschool laws, including assessment requirements, by state:
Don’t just check your state’s homeschooling laws when you begin homeschooling! Be sure to stay current and catch any changes to homeschool testing requirements by revisiting your state’s department of education website and by connecting with local homeschool groups!
Optional Homeschool Testing
Even though “test” is a four-letter word, it doesn’t have to be a bad one. Regardless of whether your state requires some form of standardized testing or other assessment, homeschool testing can be a beneficial tool within your homeschool. However, it doesn’t need to be standardized nor used in standardized ways. These are just a few reasons you may choose to use testing in your homeschool:
- Current levels/placement: You may not know where to start in a certain subject or with a certain skill, especially if your child is beginning homeschooling and may have had prior learning that you did not witness. You may want to use placement tests to determine at what level your child is currently performing. For example, the use of math placement tests or reading placement tests can save you time and effort and your child frustration (when tasks are too challenging) or boredom (when tasks are too easy). Starting where your child is can help make learning “just right.”
- Diagnosis of disabilities: If you or someone who knows your child suspects a learning disability, you may want to seek testing from your school district or an independent evaluator. Check with your state homeschool laws or school district to find out about evaluation (and possibly support) services that may be available to you.
- Confirmation of giftedness: If you suspect that your child is gifted, you may choose to seek testing to confirm giftedness. Deciding whether to test a potentially gifted child can be complicated, but the options may be worth considering.
- Movement toward mastery: You may decide to use tests as a tool to move your child toward mastery. By allowing your child to take and retake tests and quizzes, you can help your child learn material while also building confidence and reducing test anxiety.
- Monitoring of progress/understanding: More frequent testing without the high-stakes anxiety can be helpful in determining how much your child is progressing in a particular area or how much of a topic is understood. Results will help you figure out your child’s strengths, challenges, and learning gaps while also helping you determine when to pause and continue working on something and when to move on to the next skill or topic.
- Familiarity with testing: Whether we like it or not, our children will be in situations where they are tested—literally and figuratively—throughout their lives. For example, young adults may need to take a written driver’s test, or a college entrance exam, or an assessment for access to a program or organization or even career. Incorporating testing into your homeschool can help your child become familiar with test formats and types of test questions, build test-taking skills, and create a foundation for perseverance in the face of challenges.
Tips for Homeschool Testing
Once you carefully determine why you are using testing, there are also some things to consider when introducing a test:
- Setting the Importance: Ensure that your child has a realistic expectation for the importance of the test and the results. If this is a pretest or placement test, for example, let your child know the unlikelihood of your child knowing the answer for all questions. However, if a test is more high stakes, let your child know what will happen to the results. Share with your child the options if you both feel the test results do not show your child’s full potential. Avoid overstating the importance or finality of a test or its results, especially by focusing on how your child’s results may reflect on your effectiveness as a homeschool parent.
- Preparing for the Test: Make sure that your child is prepared for the test without overpreparing with practice tests ad nauseum or teaching directly to the test. You want your child to feel confident but without the feeling that all learning is for the sole purpose of doing well on the test.
- Supporting Emotions: You know your child best, so you may be able to predict how your child will handle testing. When a test is coming, remind your child of your love and support and watch for signs of nervousness or anxiety. Plan for ways for your child to relax before the test. Teach test-taking skills to build confidence and establish procedures for if your child needs a break.
- Using Results: If you have control over the use of the results of the test, be sure to share results in a supportive and encouraging way. Ask your child to reflect on how the test went. Help your child to celebrate all that is correct and well done while learning from what can be improved. If possible, involve your child in active learning based on the results by having your child make corrections, retake the test, or complete an assignment or project based on the pattern of errors.
Remember that the most important aspect of test taking is your child’s self-concept. Frame your child’s experiences with testing in ways that support your child’s positive self-esteem, a growth mindset, and your own relationship with your child, and remember that homeschool testing can be a powerful tool in your toolbox.