Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. Members should consult HSLDA for state-specific legal information or answers to specific legal questions.
As a homeschool parent, you observe your child on a daily basis and can probably determine pretty accurately in which areas he is strong and in which areas he could use some maturity or additional help. His verbal interaction with you, his hands-on activities, written work, periodic subject-matter tests (if you use them), and his achievement of goals you have set for him are all informal indicators of his progress.
Many parents find it reassuring to have some sort of guidelines for academic milestones, such as Robin Sampson’s What Your Child Needs to Know When—with checklists for evaluating progress in language arts, math, science, and social studies (K–8th) as well as character development.
However, in some states, the law may require that you periodically demonstrate academic progress. Some states require standardized testing while others may allow for a teacher letter or some other form of evaluation. Regardless of the legal requirement, you may want to conduct a more formal assessment for your own purposes. Let’s face it—when the results come in, you often feel like those results are yours, not your child’s! So how can you lessen the anxiety—for you and your student?
Consider Your Options
The method you choose for your child will depend upon your state’s legal requirements, if applicable, and/or your family’s philosophical preference. Consider also the format that will best reflect your child’s true progress: While a visual learner may test well on paper, a hands-on or auditory learner may be better assessed by an evaluation or a test utilizing personal interaction, rather than a paper-and-pencil test. In that case, you might choose to administer a standardized test first, leaving time for a follow-up if the results don’t match what you’ve witnessed in his day-to-day progress, or you may opt for an untimed test to reduce testing anxiety.
The three most commonly used methods of assessment are standardized testing, evaluations, and portfolio submission.
You may remember these as the fill-in-the-circles tests. Standardized tests are developed by commercial test publishers to provide a snapshot of the academic skills and abilities of a large sampling of students of the same grade level; examples include the Stanford, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, California Achievement Test, to name a few. While we often think that standardized tests indicate how our child compares academically to grade-level expectations, they actually indicate how our child compares academically to other kids at his grade level who took the same test on a given date (the norming date for the specific edition of the test).
Know the Deadlines
Retest or Not?
“Why would I re-test?” you wonder. If your child scores below the acceptable percentile (which varies by state) or you believe his score was low for any of various reasons, you might want to consider re-testing or using another form of evaluation or assessment. For example, say you sent the test materials in for scoring and the next day he broke out in the measles, or later that night you realized he had a fever and could barely read the questions, or found out the next week that he needs glasses, etc. If you have reason to believe that the results were not an accurate reflection of his achievement, you might want to keep this option open.
Note: A student should not be re-tested to improve a score after using the original test as a “practice” test or to ascertain test content; testing ethics generally require a 3-month minimum interval between re-tests. If in doubt about the appropriateness of re-testing in your specific circumstances, check with the test publisher/provider, or consider an alternate method of evaluation.
Be aware of your state’s deadline to turn in results of testing or performance assessment. Be sure to order your tests in time to receive the scores back before that deadline. Check with the company for the expected turnaround time (for example, some testing sources are swamped in May and have 7-week turnarounds then, but April or June may be 2-week turnaround times). Remember to test early enough to retest if you would like to.
Know which scores are required by your state and in what format they should be reported. In many “testing” states, proof of progress may be required only in certain subjects—usually language arts and math (skills subjects). If this is the case, then testing in any other subjects is optional. You are welcome to test your child in science or history (or not), but you would not turn in any non-required scores to the superintendent. If you do choose to test in those other areas, remember that those are not sequential subject areas (while language arts and math are generally sequential), so your child may be tested on subject matter that was not necessarily covered in your program of study, but will be covered at a later date.
Prepare your Student
The test will have questions ranging from below the testing grade level to well above grade level, so it is important for your child to understand that you do not expect him to know all the answers. Otherwise, he may panic when he encounters material with which he is not familiar. As parents, we must remember that if and when we test our children in everyday studies, we do it to check that they have learned all the material presented and we expect (hope for?) a score of 100. Consequently, it is critical that the child understands that we don’t expect him to know all the answers on this test, but we simply want to find out how many he does know, that some of them are—deliberately—too hard for him, and he should just do his best. If a timed test is too stressful for your child, consider an untimed test, such as the Stanford 10, or another method of assessment (if possible). Test preparation materials and practice tests are available.
Some Commonly Used Tests:
Sources of Testing Materials Include:
A Beka Testing Service
Bayside Testing Service
Brigance Diagnostic Inventories
Christian Liberty Academy
(CAT-6, about $25) Anyone who can read and follow directions may administer the tests.
TestPoint placement test—An online placement service for K–12. Not a standardized achievement test, but can be used to confirm that your student is ready for the grade level you have selected. Scores are reported in grade equivalent and percentile format. $34.95
Curriculum recommendation service, $18. Recommendations based primarily on Christian Liberty Press materials.
Classical Conversations Testing Service
Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services
Family Learning Organization
Iowa Test of Basic Skills
Let’s Go Learn
Piedmont Education Services
Seton Testing Services
CAT E-Survey: Tests for Reading, Language and Math only.
Thurber’s Educational Assessments
Triangle Education Assessments
Test with Integrity
Regardless of the testing mechanism you choose, it is important that you test with accuracy and integrity. Please honor the time limits on the test; if a timed test is too stressful for your child, consider an untimed test such as the Stanford 10, or another method of assessment (if allowed by your state). If you deviate from the instructions for any reason, you must annotate this for the scorers; otherwise, any results will be skewed; this is not to your child’s benefit in the long run. Following directions completely and faithfully helps to preserve this option for homeschooling parents.
Don’t “Teach the Test”
How can you prepare your child without “teaching to the test?”
According to Riverside Publishing, “The ITBS measures basic skills that range from facts and conventions through higher-order skills, not just minimum skills. Since The Iowa Tests were conceived nearly sixty years ago, the authors have consistently defined ‘basic skills’ as a wide range of skills including applying information, making inferences, evaluating, explaining, and other higher-order skills. By grade 8, over half of the ITBS test questions measure these higher-order skills. In grades 9–12, ITED focuses primarily on these advanced skills. Therefore, home and school activities need to include a wide range of basic skills appropriate to the child’s age/grade.”
The developers at Riverside suggest that, rather than relying only on rote learning materials, parents balance their reading program by integrating phonics with the written and spoken word to help children become successful readers and writers. Math programs that focus on concepts and problem-solving and then integrate these skills with the necessary computational skills are much more likely to improve children’s math skills than rote computation activities alone. The best preparation for taking any achievement test includes a well-rounded program of study: not only desk work, but hands-on activities and experiences to give a student hooks on which to hang his future learning.
What Do the Scores Mean?
The percentile ranking tells how your child did compared to others—a score of 75th percentile means that your child scored as well or better than 75 out of 100 students in the norming group who took the same test. It does not mean that your child got only 75 percent of the questions right.
The stanine ranking (STAndard NINE) tells where your child’s score fell on a 9-part standard curve (imagine the 99 percentiles divided into nine sections). The 1st–3rd stanines would be below average, the 4th–6th would be average, and the 7th–9th would be above average.
The grade equivalent (example: 7.2 GE) simply means that a child in that grade/month (second month of seventh grade) would have done as well as your child did on the same test. It does not mean that your child is on a seventh-grade level (unless he is a seventh grader and scored as such). It does indicate to you that your fourth grader is doing well, or that your tenth grader needs some extra help.
Keep the Results in Perspective
Even if your child doesn’t do as well as you might expect, think of the test or evaluation as simply a tool to assess progress, to let you know the areas in which he is doing well and the areas in which you may need some work. Maybe you overestimated his understanding of a particular subject area. As you review the results, consider the goals you set earlier in the year. How did you do? Are you on target or do you need to adjust the course a bit to reach the desired destination on this “journey” of home education?
Remember that a test or evaluation is just one “snapshot” of his academic progress and of your child as a person. He is more than the sum of his test results! This time of year can be a wonderful reminder to thank God for this uniquely gifted child He has given you—and to trust Him to continue to guide your choices and approaches.
Who might benefit from an evaluation? Young children, students who don’t read well or quickly yet, children with learning challenges, or children who are extremely overwhelmed emotionally by testing.
An evaluation is simply the assessment of your child’s progress by an educational professional—usually a certified teacher or other educational professional. (In some states, this can also be anyone with a master’s degree in an academic discipline; check your state’s law.) The evaluator can let you know ahead of time what criteria will be evaluated so you can be prepared. You will generally want to have a portfolio of your child’s work, and your child will need to be available to sit and talk with the evaluator.
A few things to ask a potential evaluator:
Remember that the acceptance of the report may be at the discretion of the school superintendent, depending upon your state law. He will want to be assured that your child is making adequate progress in the requisite areas of language arts and math.
A portfolio is simply a scrapbook or collection of highlights of your child’s work for the year. In some states, it can be turned in independently (without professional evaluator report; with parental report) for assessment by the superintendent in lieu of standardized test scores. Many parents simply find it helpful recordkeeping to compile a portfolio, even if only for personal use (or to share with the grandparents!).
A portfolio might include:
You might include comments about each child’s progress. It is recommended that you not include the originals of any items, but make photocopies for the portfolio. You will want a receipt for the portfolio from the clerk who accepts it at the superintendent’s office.
(Some lesson planning books include spaces for all pertinent portfolio information. With work samples and photos added, this sort of plan book might be a simple method of portfolio preparation.)