What do you think about standardized testing in the life of a homeschool family? Is it:
- Necessary for the parent, and future teachers, to gain information about their children’s progress?
- Unnecessary because homeschool parent know their students and have a higher investment in their success?
- Useful if conducted in an alternative, personalized form?
- Merely a waste of time and money?
- Misleading and harmful to students?
- A necessary evil, since the law requires it and kids will experience testing some day?
- A travesty of the best educational principles and something to be resisted?
Washington State law says that:
a. Homeschooled students between the ages of 8 and 18 must be annually evaluated using an approved standardized achievement test or a written non-test assessment.
b. Standardized test scores and/or written evaluations are to be kept as part of your child’s permanent records.
c. If your child transfers to a public or private school, copies of tests results are to be provided if requested.
At first I thought nothing of this requirement, nor of the one that I register each child when eight years of age as a homeschooler. One piece of paper to the district, a few days to a week of testing per year, and wouldn’t I get some useful data after all? Personally, I enjoyed standardized tests as a kid. So on a friend’s advice, I ordered Iowa grade school SATs, which could be administered at home by a parent with an undergrad degree.
Over the years I’ve developed a more ambivalent attitude about standardized testing, leaning toward the negative.
Real homeschoolers are very aware of their children’s academic progress and motivated to do their best for and with them. The testing rules are there because some parents have not been responsible. At least I suppose that’s the reason. Or because someone assumed it was a good idea, do make everyone “equal.” Of course it would be relatively easy for a parent to avoid any sort of registration of their children as “school age” at all, and they could stay under the radar and not bother with the rules at all, unless someone ratted on them. But if they take the time to follow testing rules, here’s what can happen:
They can communicate the message to their children, that
- the common curriculum, with its standardized and graded content, sequence, and omissions, is the proper curriculum
- multiple choice tests are good for evaluating useful knowledge and skills
- failure to achieve high test scores is cause for concern
Maybe another reason for tests is that they trick some parents into thinking, because their kids don’t do the state scope and sequence, that they’d better buy the What your –Grader Needs to Know series by E.D.Hirsch and get with the program or their kid will be left behind. No child left behind, right? Behind what? The bandwagon, I guess. So even though school people talk about individualized learning and unique potential, standards are the backbone of the system, because, after all, it’s a more efficient way to run, evaluate, fund, and tweak a machine.
I wanted to test my students at home rather than in a group session to lessen their stress levels and distractions, as well as set a flexible schedule. We set aside a week each spring for testing–some students take only a few days, others space their sessions out over a longer period. I try to set a comfortable pace for each student and one that works for the family. I now order only the test of basic skills, having found the other tests an unnecessary expense of money, time, and energy.
The first time I gave my oldest son his test at age eight, I stressed about it, he stressed about it, even though I knew, and told him, that his test results would not reflect on his intelligence or abilities. He was a late reader, so he struggled with most of the language arts questions, except those I could read aloud to test his vocabulary. He did poorly on reading comprehension until his reading skills took off around age eleven, and the tests before that age did nothing for him but undermine his self confidence. I had to talk him through it, reassuring him that he was plenty smart and the test makers just couldn’t account for differences. I just wanted a general idea of what he did and didn’t yet know. I probably should have let him skip certain sections entirely. I realize now I was being hypocritical telling him it was completely normal that his reading abilities were on a different schedule, yet forcing him to labor through each question as if it was important to get a score. I even checked for errors when he was done and took notes on what he “should” know before the year was out. I remember he had trouble on a social studies question that showed an illustration of a teacher writing on a blackboard and asked what was the job of that person. He had no idea, because he’d never seen a blackboard!
My daughter had an even harder time with testing, and I thought we’d never get through. Although she was an early reader and good speller, she absolutely hated being time tested, and became very upset despite my reassurances. I plied her with hot chocolate, encouraged her to breathe deeply, and hoped that the experience taking a test would help her in the future, in institutional settings where such things were an unfortunate necessity to sort the masses out onto the bell curve.
The math section can be useful, I think, as one can test arithmetic better than other skills. But the kids and I know that there’s not much correlation in the science and social studies questions with our own “scope and sequence.” I didn’t even do any formal US history for the first several years I taught my kids–we studied ancient world history, Asia and the Middle East (including living there for over two years), first. And our science was mainly outdoor observation and drawing, reading together, vegetable gardening, and field trips.
By this time my children know not to stress about the topics we haven’t covered (most of which can be covered in one minute or less for testing purposes, if we were into that), and chuckle at the questions that oversimplify concepts and have to be “dumbed down” to make sense. Or the “cross cultural” elements with which my children weren’t familiar such as the picture of a teacher erasing a blackboard, something my kids had never seen.
We took my kids overseas in the middle of our homeschooling years, and we stayed under the radar there, continuing to homeschool and partake of some of the public schooling there part time. So my younger two had no experience with testing until we got home, and I don’t remember any stress about it–maybe because being home at all was such a treat after those years of trying to figure things out, learning a new language, and being away from our homeschooling buddies and family.
My kids started their first public school at various ages–the oldest as a freshman in high school, the youngest in third grade. Testing in school was even worse. Several weeks long, complete secrecy asked about the test contents, a score printout mailed many weeks later. The teachers privately resented it, but making time and prepping beforehand was all part of one’s duty to make the principal look good. No one mentioned the option to opt out, but we did whenever my kids wanted to, so I probably became known to the local middle school principal mainly as one of those test refusers. Later when returned to teaching, I felt awkward about subbing there.
Then I came on as a longer term sub, and after that started a contract position part time, and later settled into the full time position I have now. I have zipped my lips to be a good employee, too, but I feel exactly the same as I did about the tests. I’m working with homeschoolers now, to many of them know not to take the numbers too seriously, but let things reveal themselves through working with their children and through conversations with us who work with them part time at school. I have to say, we do use our scores to alert us to students who need a closer look, and/or to our methods, materials, and levels of support in math and English language arts. And we watch in amusement as various administrations at various levels shift and swing on quantities, areas, frequencies and uses of standardized tests, trying to please everyone. We conform, but keep our own council about student progress, informed by working closely with them, using tailor-made assessments so we can turn our instruction and support on a dime, and recognize the wonderful variety in learning styles, expressions, and rhythms across each class and grade.