You and your children homeschooled diligently all year. Now you face "that testing time again." Don't want to spend a lot of money to do it? Student assessments don't need to be stressful, time-consuming or expensive.
Testing: Good or Bad?
Testing young children presents a challenge to professionals, and the accuracy of testing is controversial. Young children may struggle with motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and the visual perception skills needed for reading and writing. Testing may not indicate the child's strengths, and may overemphasize transitory weaknesses. This makes curriculum choices more difficult and testing problematic. However, you have the advantage over professionals because you know your children well. You spend far more time with them, and you see them on good and bad days. So, trust your gut instincts more than the test.
Perhaps you are happily using an affordable boxed curriculum or a satellite or correspondence "umbrella" school. If the program includes testing resources that will meet your needs, great. However, if you use a packaged third-grade curriculum, parts of it may be too advanced, while other parts may include unnecessary review. Your youngster may zoom ahead of peers in one subject, lag behind in others.
Testing can help reveal the "gaps" so you can fill them in and reveal areas of talents and interests as well.
Despite its challenges, progressively learning to take tests will eventually be an important life skill. It may also reveal subtle learning gaps, and help you know where to change curriculum or add more activities, if necessary.
One of my children was an exceptionally early reader, at age six avidly reading Hardy Boys books. He could explain passages that he read, and read any portion of the books aloud. However, his real-world skills far exceeded his early test scores. As his test skills developed, his scores soared.
Testing Dos and Don'ts
First, avoid unnecessary testing and documentation that detracts from learning goals. Standardized tests typically cover subjects such as Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, Sciences, and Social Studies. You may also test thinking, listening, researching and study skills. If you are new to homeschooling, ask your local homeschool veterans what they use. Your local or state homeschool support group will help you know exactly what the law requires in your area. Find your state's support group through our website, Homeschool World.
Beyond basic requirements, you may be allowed a lot of leeway. You can also visit ed.gov (in the search box, type in "department of education" and the name of your state). In some states you can download practice tests by grade level. However, you may not be required to take the state proficiency tests. In Ohio, homeschool parents can choose to use any nationally-normed, standardized test (Iowa, California, Metropolitan, Stanford, etc.), a narrative (portfolio evaluation) written by an Ohio certified teacher, or as a third option, anything acceptable to both you and your local superintendent of schools.
Try to make the testing experience for a younster fun, relaxing, and geared to the child's interests and developmental level. Get a good night's sleep the night before, then enjoy a special breakfast. Then if conditions allow, make the assessment into a game, with much positive reinforcement. For example, some children enjoy testing with other homeschooled families. If so, celebrate with special games and treats after the test. This will give many children the incentive to try hard, if they anticipate a reward. If your child enjoys competition, bring a timer and play "race the clock," for a math test. Or say "Today we're going to play "Simon Says." Then start each test direction with "Simon says..." Be playful!
Also, take your child's learning style into account. An auditory learner may excel with an oral quiz, for example. Tell an active, hands-on learner to "show me" how to read directions for a science experiement or to make change with money. Highly visual learners will appreciate pictures to accompany test questions.
If your young child must be formally tested by a stranger, practice at home first, with Mom or Dad giving a home test. If possible, visit the test site and the teacher several times before the scheduled test, so that your child will be familiar with the environment.
If your state law (check with your state homeschool organization) allows you flexibility, consider testing skills instead of grade levels. You may be able to informally assess your child using What Your Child Needs to Know When: An Evaluation Checklist for Grades K - 8, by Robin Sampson (heartofwisdom.com). Worldbook (worldbook.com) offers a free "Typical Course of Study." Use this checklist from preschool to high school; just check off skills and topics that are mastered as you go along. A Beka offers a free downloadable "Scope and Sequence, Nursery through 12th Grade," at abeka.com/Resources/. NATHHAN (National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network) at nathhan.com offers information on testing children with special needs.
Some workbooks, such as The Complete Book of Phonics by American Education Publishing, develop skills systematically and contain test practice questions for several grade levels. You may use the same workbook over several years, or your child may "leap ahead" to a higher level when given the opportunity. You can also print up free practice pages online, at sites such as such as tlsbooks.com. Download free online assessment tests from Accelerated Christian Education (you must register, but there's no cost), aceministries.com/assessments/, and diagnostic tests from Switched-On Schoolhouse, at aophomeschooling.com/diagnostic-tests.php.
Your local librarian can point you to materials that test basic skills taught in your local schools, giving a rough idea of what age-mates are required to learn. Also, your state's education website may offer free downloadable test practice books that any citizen can use, regardless of school enrollment. Your tax dollars at work.
Also check out test preparation books by Arco, Kaplan guides, and Random House Elementary School Study guides such as How to Get Better Test Scores on Elementary School Standardized Tests. Find free resources and information for testing and assessment.
Regardless of test results, build on your child's strenths. Maybe your child can't recite the multiplication tables yet, but he is quick to help a friend in trouble. Or your youngster may not be reading at age level, but she can tell a great joke and cheer up her little sister. Starting the day with Bible reading and prayer together encourages families to relax more and focus on long-term learning goals. After all, there's always next year.