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The Difference Between Testing and Assessing
Homeschool parents are often untrained in terms of formal education principles, theories and methods. As such, it is easy to misinterpret or misunderstand assessment to mean administering standardized testing. While there are similarities, and standardized testing does provide valuable assessment information, the principles of assessment are not the same as testing. Testing provides a one-time snap shot of a student’s abilities and retained knowledge. A bad day, recent illness, or poorly designed test can drastically alter the results.
Assessments, on the other hand, provide a broader view of a student’s true abilities. For example, looking at numerous examples of a student’s handwriting from the beginning, middle, and end of a school year provides a better indication of their progress for the year. From such an example, parents can better assess improvements and skill development. A single, one-opportunity writing “test" could show drastically different results. If a student has not yet eaten lunch, for example, their handwriting could potentially be shakier or sloppier than if taken later in the day, after lunch, and thus not illustrate their true abilities.
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Assessments and Creativity
State requirements for standardized testing aside, parents can use assessments as an opportunity to be more creative. Parents can determine which tools best fit their teaching and their child’s learning styles. For example, a parent can opt to use a variety of methods using free and inexpensive tools. Many curriculum providers offer free placement tests to determine where your child falls in terms of skills and their curriculum objectives. Likewise, standardized tests do offer valuable information on knowledge retention. However, these are not the only tools. Be just as creative with your assessment tools as you are with your teaching approach.
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Parent-Child Assessments, Discussions, and Portfolios
Talking with your child about their strengths, weaknesses, and interests can do a great deal to help assess their performance. At the beginning of the school year, provide options in terms of subjects, unit study topics, and teaching methods. Determine with your child, as age appropriate, what goals they would like to achieve with their learning, as well as what goals and achievements you expect. Discuss together what educational goals each subject or unit should meet and how you plan to measure their performance.
You might be surprised what ideas your child has for showing off their educational accomplishments. Building a portfolio of accomplishments together, for example, provides wonderful assessment opportunities, as well as boosting your child’s confidence. For older children, building such portfolios also helps with college admission requirements. A yearly portfolio provides examples of where skills began and how they have improved over time.
Family discussions are also another way to assess your student. If you want to know how much information your child has retained from history, science, sociology, geography, or even math lessons, have a verbal discussion. Ask your child their opinions on historical events or scientific theories and discoveries. Ask them open discussion questions about geographical areas, including cultural and other sociology information, as appropriate for their age and skill level. Ask them to provide real world examples of how they could apply math concepts to solve a problem. If a child can openly and intelligently discuss a particular topic, they are obviously retaining and internalizing the concepts taught.
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Start and End Each Year with Goals
To further document and track performance, write down their accomplishments for the year. For example, if you noticed improvement in their math skills, handwriting, or application of scientific principles, write these down at the end of the year. Include supporting information, such as standardized testing results or example assignments. Determine what you believe to be the next, most logical goal in their development.
Likewise, write down areas where you feel your child could improve. For example, if their report-writing skills, creative problem solving skills, or ability to manage fractions seems to be lacking, make a note of these weaknesses as things to target in the future. Determine specific goals such as improving typing speed and accuracy to 45wpm by Christmas or consistently complete book reports of more than 300 words. Specific goals help you determine when performance has improved. Standardized testing results and keeping examples of assignments can also help determine to what level your child has improved.
- Jubilee Academy, Homeschool Controversies: Assessing Homeschool Performance http://www.thejubileeacademy.org/articles/assessing_home_school_performance.html
- Image courtesy of stock.xchng http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1272854
- Search the ERIC System, Importance of Assessing Student Learning http://edu.searcheric.org/assessing-student-learning.html