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Time4Learning Demos

Testing Homeschoolers

How Testing *Should* Be Seen!

By Ann Zeise and Jane M. Smith

When you think of testing, do you:

  1. Picture thirty kids locked in a classroom scrambling to answer questions before the timer goes off,
  2. Smell the delicious aroma of the chocolate cake your son just baked,
  3. See the garden you and your children planted earlier this year overflowing with produce,
  4. Picture your child at a county fair showing a prize animal?

Guess what? They are ALL the correct answer! That’s right! Testing is not just sitting in a room with thirty kids filling in little bubbles without going outside the lines. Every time you bake a cake, build something, or tell someone what you learned, you are passing a test. If the only one of those four answers you considered was answer “#1,” start expanding your definition of testing.

Schools use multiple choice, group administered tests because it is a quick, efficient way to find out what a large number of students know. But there are two main drawbacks: for the most part, such tests only show how well kids take tests, and the use of such tests inevitably leads to “teaching to the test,” in order to give the appearance of raising test scores. There is no way to guarantee that the student who is able to pass the test can actually put the information they have in their head to use in real-world applications. Performance-based testing, on the other hand, usually has a tangible result that will only occur if the examinee “gets it right.”

In performance-based testing, if you don’t know something, it shows right away. If you don’t know what eggs do for a recipe, you’ll find out when you forget to put them in there. If you don’t know what gardens need in order to grow, your lack of produce later will show it. If you forget to feed your steer, its low weight at the fair will educate you. But why test at all?

Before you test your homeschooled children, there are several things to consider. The most important is to think hard about why you are testing your children. Someone may have told you that you must, that your state requires testing. In this case, do look carefully at the laws for your state or province.

  • Many states do not require testing, yet ISP’s will ask you to have your child tested. Know when you can stand firm, to refuse testing. Don’t help set a precedence for testing in your community!
  • Some states require very specific tests in their laws for homeschooled students, and in these cases, you should comply.
  • Others seem rather wishy-washy about what you use for testing, and some don’t even care if you report the scores!
  • Most states will only become concerned if your child is in the lowest 30%. If you are homeschooling a child with severe learning disabilities, do keep records of testing from school days, too, as well as testing during homeschooling so that you can show improvement, if required.

If you are required to test, resist the urge to look at the scores. I know this may be hard. You’ll be curious whether your homeschooling is working better or worse than some national norm. The national norm is, of course, 50%. Any norm is 50%. That’s the definition of “normal.” Homeschooling students, no matter what method is used, whether text-based, eclectic, or unschooling, tend to score above the norm. There. Feel better? You have “above average” children simply because your kids are being taught things they really want to learn, with loving, individual attention.

When trying to decide how much importance to place on standardized test scores, think about how knowing the scores will influence your perspective about your child’s abilities. Last year I had my son take SmarterKids’ rather fun “Children’s Skill Test” because I was in one of those paranoid states, thinking that I wasn’t teaching him at a challenging enough level. I was getting lots of flak from relatives: “How do you know he’s learning enough?” So he took the tests. He did fantastic!
It went right to his head. Why should he do any more at all if the scores showed him well above grade level? Why not take a few years off and just play computer games? Ack! That was NOT what I wanted from testing. What if he’d had a “bad hair day” and had decided to randomly put in answers? If the score had been extremely low, would I have forced him to buckle down and started to jam curriculum down his throat? Would he have given up?

There are some logical reasons to test, but a multiple choice, standardized test is not the best method to use to do so. Life will often provide tests. Once on a tour the guide asked, “What is the speed of light?” My son knew it. I didn’t recall talking about the speed of light at home. Asked later how he knew it, he had said he saw it on a t-shirt and thought it was interesting.

Often, you can steer a conversation to something your child has been studying to see if the main point of the topic has been grasped. Gently done, this can help you see your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Just listening to your kids and finding out what conclusions they are drawing will let you know if they understand important concepts or have misunderstood something.

Contests are fun for those who have mastered some skill and would like to compete with peers. While not for all, a contest can be lots of fun when a child feels well prepared and is pitted against only those with similar skills. County fairs, spelling bees, and geography bees are examples of such contests. Games and exhibitons give practice and test new skills, and can be fun for all. But do not force your child into competitions.
Let the idea come from her or him.

It is sometimes helpful to expose your child to standardized testing if he or she is preparing for college. If your teen has never been given standardized tests, it would be a good idea to take advantage of the many test preparation books and programs available. These can be found at your nearest bookstore or library. Preparation for the SAT and the ACT may help your child score higher.

In summary, consider why you feel you must test your child. Is the test really necessary? Could taking the test harm your child or your relationship with your child? Who needs to see the results and what do they intend to do based on seeing the results? If taking the test means your child will qualify for some program in which he or she desperately wants take part, by all means, let him or her take the test. If the test is only for the glorification of your school district and you are not required by law to take the test, do yourself and your child a favor: don’t force testing. Districts tend to think that if they can get some homeschoolers to test, then they have the right to require all homeschoolers to test, and this hurts us all.


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