As much as we want to deny it, testing is often a necessary evil. Nothing tells you exactly where your student stands like a test. Even if
you think your student knows certain things, sometimes you'll be surprised that she or he doesn't. Of course, the converse of that statement is true as well. Sometimes when testing your student, you find he or she knows more than you thought about a subject. While many homeschool parents vehemently oppose testing, before discussing various products that will help you to test, I would like to pose an argument in favor of giving homeschool testing a reasonable chance.
As parents, we tend to think our children are the most brilliant children who ever walked the earth. That's normal, and you're not alone in that though because most parents believe their children to be phenomenally bright. However, because of this, we also tend to be a bit biased when it comes to looking at their strengths and weaknesses in an accurate light. Yes, as homeschoolers we work with them on a daily basis, so we know what they are capable of, but sometimes, this becomes skewed. Sometimes, we think our students are more capable than they are, that they are retaining more information than they are, or that they understood a concept with which they are actually struggling.
Enter the need for testing. Testing, both in the sense of administering standardized testing and traditional subject testing, can be helpful in the following ways:
- If you administer a pre-test, and your student passes with flying colors, consider either skipping the unit or spending only a day on the unit review questions. This will keep your student from becoming bored with the material. Granted, you should make sure your student understands the concepts at work, but you can move ahead faster.
- If you administer a post test, and your student struggles, you'll need to give your student more work in that subject especially if it's math, reading, spelling, or writing that we're talking about.
- By giving tests at the beginning and ending of each year, you can be sure that the curriculum you use is at the student's actual intellectual ability level instead of what you believe his or her ability to be. Also, this will allow you to see how effective your methods are.
- By administering standardized tests, as loathed as these creatures are, you can have a record of you student's abilities should circumstances change and you need to put your student into a public or private institution.
At the beginning and end of each school year, you should perform assessment tests in at least the following subjects:
- Foreign Languages (if they are being studied)
By doing this, you will have a good idea of where your student is and how much he or she has improved over time. It will also help you to determine whether or not the curriculum level you are using is moving too fast or too slow.
There are some very nice reading assessment products available for consumers including The Blumenfield Oral Reading Assessment Test and the Comprehensive Assessment Teacher's Guides available at Rainbow Resource.
When it comes to assessing math, many of the math programs provide placement tests on their websites – especially Saxon Math and Singapore Math. These are free for you to use. Give the same test before and after a level is completed. Then, should your student need more help, have him or her focus on the specific areas where he or she struggled.
For spelling, simply turn through your student's book. Give pre and post tests. At the end of the year, you may want to randomly give your student words from the units in the book to review spelling rules.
Grammar and writing assessments are more difficult to come by. You may want to look through the grammar and writing text you are using for the year. Sometimes grammar curricula will come with tests so you can make a copy of the final test (so long as it is cumulative) and give it to your student at the start and finish of the year. For writing, at the beginning of the year, have him or her write out a short composition on an assigned topic. Look for the way sentences are put together, paragraphs are formed, and the general usage of language.
For foreign languages, you may need to turn to outside assessment testing as I did in the case of the National Latin Exam, have a tutor construct a test, or construct your own test. It's important to test for retention of the language.
Another form of testing you'll want to look into is curriculum testing. This is most relevant in subjects like history or science. While in the lower grades, having students narrate back to you what they have read is often sufficient as a means of testing their knowledge, in the upper grades, when you'll need to start tracking grades for students who wish to attend college, you'll need an objective form of evaluating what your student has learned. In lieu of an actual set of tests you can purchase, consider purchasing a workbook and reserving that workbook for evaluating student knowledge.
Standardized testing is the bane of many people's existence – especially when it comes to homeschooling. Believe it or not, however, you can actually identify learning disabilities and gaps in knowledge by using standardized tests. For example, if your student seems engaged with his or her texts consistently, and has no problem in a one-on-one setting, but then struggles with math on the test, there could be a few reasons. The student may have test anxiety or dyscalculia. If on the other hand, the student struggles to get information out when you're asking for summaries, but then scores very high on a standardized test, it may be the case that he or she has a learning disability known as expressive language disorder where the information goes in, but then it's harder to get it out of the student. It's important to identify these and have them diagnosed before college so that your student may receive the attention he or she needs.
There are a few standardized homeschool testing products available on the market. These include:
- The Stanford Achievement Test – at the first and second grade levels, word study skills, comprehension, spelling, math are tested. In the third grade, vocabulary, comprehension, listening, spelling, science, social studies, and math are tested. At the higher grade levels, grade level appropriate topics are tested. Homeschool Testing Services provides this test for around $50.
- The California Achievement Test (CAT) – You can order this test through Seton Testing Services for $25. Like the Stanford Achievement Test, this test evaluates skills in a variety of subject matter. If you order it through Seton, you can administer the exam at home. Preparation for this test involves the Spectrum test books, which are available at Barnes and Noble or other bookstores for around $10.
- AP Exams – At the high school level, if you can, have your student take as many of these exams as possible. These exams grant college credit for high school work and can give a homeschooled student proof of knowledge in a subject area. The exams tend to be somewhat pricey (around $90); however, they can save thousands in college tuition, and there are fee reduction plans available. Purchase the preparation books at a local bookstore and take the exam at a local high school or college testing center in the spring.
- PSAT, SAT, and ACT – These are the college entrance and scholarship tests. Even if your student plans to attend community college, he or she should plan to take at least the PSAT and SAT exams. Don't spend money on an expensive seminar to learn how to take the exams. Instead, invest that money in a college fund and buy your student a good test prep book or two instead. These exams are administered at testing centers either at colleges or high school campuses. They cost around $50 to take, and you can get a fee waiver if you demonstrate financial need.
In short, while the idea of testing can be scary, don't let your testing anxiety interfere with the need to evaluate your student's learning. Take the bull by the horns and make sure to add regular testing into your homeschooling routine.
Image courtesy of https://www.sxc.hu/photo/1275249
Ronda Bowen has been homeschooling her son for five years.