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According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, at least twenty-four states require homeschooling parents to administer some form of standarized test, achievement test, or other type of evaluation. Some require testing at specific ages or grade levels, while others require test administration on a yearly, biyearly, or three-year schedule. Other states have no requirements concerning standardized testing.
For some parents, state requirements merely instruct them to maintain records of test results, while others require parents to submit test scores to continue eligibility for a homeschool program. Furthermore, certain states only allow the use of specific tests to measure achievement and educational progress. Regardless of specific state requirements, parents can use standardized testing to help provide comprehensive feedback on their child’s educational development.
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Options, Benefits and Drawbacks
Homeschooling parents will find a wide variety of choices in terms of testing options. Naturally, parents should first consult their state requirements to decide which test their student should take. However, of equal importance is a parent’s own comfort level in terms of test administration, and what skills or developmental areas they wish to measure in their child. The most common standardized testing chosen by homeschoolers include:
- California Achievement Test (CAT, CAT/5, or CAT-e)
- Iowa Test of Basic Skills
- Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS)
- Stanford Achievement Tests
- Basic Achievement Skills Inventory (BASI)
- CTBS TerraNova (CTB/McGraw-Hill’s replacement for the CAT tests)
Each testing option has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, the CAT-e test is shorter than both the CAT and CAT/5, but only covers reading, language arts, and math, as opposed to the full battery of subjects offered with other CAT tests. Additionally, the entire CAT test series is currently in the process of phasing out in favor of the CTBS TerraNova, CTB/McGraw-Hill’s more comprehensive and modern testing model. Several testing suppliers and scoring centers still provide support for the CAT test series, while others are moving homeschool parents over to the TerraNova testing model.
Other tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Stanford Achievement Tests include a full battery of subject areas with comprehensive skill assessment. However, these tests also have their drawbacks. For example, the Iowa Test requires a parent with a teaching certificate or bachelor’s degree education. These tests are also more expensive than CAT or PASS tests. On the other hand, inexpensive and homeschool-focused tests such as PASS are not approved to meet requirements in all states. Parents are advised to research each test option to find the best match for their state, their child’s grade level, cost, delivery methods, and skill areas covered.
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Results: Percentile, Stanine, Raw, What Do They Mean?
Percentile ranks the child in comparison to other children of the same age and grade level. Some states have requirements that homeschool children must score above the 13th, 23rd, or similar percentile to maintain eligibility for home education.
Stanine results operate on a numeric, nine-point scale system. In fact, “stanine” is short for standard nine-point scale. Above average performance receives a stanine result of 7, 8, or 9. Average performance receives results of 4, 5, or 6. Below average performance is indicated by results of 1, 2, or 3.
Raw scores are simply points assigned for correctly answered questions. These results can be difficult to understand without corresponding test information, such as the number of questions in a given subject area. A raw Math score of 43 does not indicate a letter grade or percentile. It simply indicates the number of points earned for correctly answered questions. What that number means can vary, depending on if there were 50, 75, or 100 questions in the math portion of the test.
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How to Prepare
While not all states stipulate test requirements, parents should consider the value of such measurement tools. These tools and tests are not only designed to gauge student performance and learning, but to provide insight into a child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. This provides valuable information as to what subject areas require more focus than other areas. Standardized testing can be a useful tool in mapping learning objectives and educational goals for your child.
Preparing for testing requires not only selecting the best test for your needs, but also preparing yourself and the student. While younger children may not have as much anxiety with regard to testing, older children and teenagers can place far more emphasis on test outcomes. It is up to you to set the example for how important test results are or are not. It may help to understand, and thus relay to your student, that these tests are not pass or fail. Instead, these tests help parents and students understand where more work is needed or when educational goals have been met.
- Pearson Publishers, FAQ for Standardized Testing: http://www.pearsonedmeasurement.com/research/faq.htm
- Georgia Home Education Association, Most Common Standardized Achievement Tests: http://www.ghea.org/pages/testing/standardizedTests.php
- Home School Legal Defense Association, Summary of Laws: http://www.hslda.org/laws/Summary_of_Laws.pdf