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Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. Members should consult HSLDA for state-specific legal information or answers to specific legal questions.

End-of-Year Assessments

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.

Standardized Testing

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:

  • Basic Achievement Skills Inventory (BASI) for grades 3–12
  • Brigance Diagnostic Inventories (Very thorough test; helpful in IEP/SEP/goal setting for special needs children. May be given by parents. Yellow Brigance: birth to developmental age 7; Green Brigance: grade levels Pre-K through 9; HSLDA members may rent from HSLDA
  • California Achievement Test (CAT)
  • Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS)
  • Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS)
  • Stanford Achievement Test (Stanford-10 or SAT, not to be confused with the College Board SAT).
  • PASS test (from Hewitt-standardized but not nationally normed)
  • Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) (Short but accurate; because of brevity, can be helpful for children with attention difficulties)
  • Woodcock-Johnson (Oral interaction/evaluation in addition to written work; must be administered by qualified tester, usually a psychologist or an education professional)

Sources of Testing Materials Include:

Local groups
Your local support group or state organization may offer testing services.

A Beka Testing Service
1-888-722-0044
ITBS 2005 norms/Stanford 10 2007 norms, grades K–12, $25–35; Stanford 10 online version for grades 3–12, $25; registered parents may give the ITBS and online SAT10 to their own children; see rules for giving the SAT10 paper

Bayside Testing Service
1-800-723-3057
CTB McGraw-Hill’s TerraNova in Complete Battery or shorter Survey, and the Test of Cognitive Skills (TCS/2)

Brigance Diagnostic Inventories
(Very thorough test; helpful in IEP/SEP/goal setting for special needs children. May be given by parents. Yellow Brigance: birth to developmental age 7; Green Brigance: grade levels Pre-K through 9; HSLDA members may rent from HSLDA.

BJU Press
1-800-845-5731
ITBS®/ITED® Form C and Stanford 10, Grades K-12, $29 or $39 with comprehensive results and interpretation. Learning abilities tests, test prep, The Iowa Algebra Aptitude TestTM, Career Direct®, and writing evaluations. Visit their website for options.

Christian Liberty Academy
1-847-259-4444

(CAT-6, about $25) Anyone who can read and follow directions may administer the tests.

Grades 2–12 (Also available as online version, taken on computer, $30.) See CLP’s FAQs for test level guidance.

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
336-370-6122
Provides Stanford 10 group for grades K-12, as well as online Stanford 10 testing for grades 3-12.

Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services
Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment
(K–5th; $16 per grade level)
This is not a nationally normed, standardized achievement test. As a diagnostic assessment, it does not compare students to “normed” students within the same national, public school peer-group as standardized tests do, but instead, each student is thoroughly evaluated for mastery of his or her grade level skills in all required subjects. (Compare Standardized with Diagnostic Tests)

Also available: Total Language Diagnostic Assessment (grades K–5th) and Diagnostic Grade Placement Screening (grades K–8th)

Family Learning Organization
509-467-2552
(BASI, grades 3 and up; $30; Norm Date: 2003)
May be given by any parent; covers math, reading, language (does not include science, social studies)

Hewitt Homeschooling
800-348-1750
PASS test: an untimed standardized achievement test for Grades 3-8 developed specifically for homeschooled students; covers reading, language and math; may be administered by parents; $36, lower prices for additional tests ordered. Group tests: call 800-348-1750 to order.

Iowa Test of Basic Skills
K–8 Note: through 3rd grade is untimed—survey or core battery is skills subjects (not content), orally administered

KidTest.com (HSLDA PerX provider)
Benchmarked tests (including a free kindergarten readiness checklist).

Let’s Go Learn
888-618-7323
(ADAM K-7 and DOMA math assessments; DORA reading assessments) Online diagnostic assessments for grades K-12; targeted instruction.

Piedmont Education Services
336-924-2494
(CAT5 achievement tests, available year-round, price match guarantee, free shipping; practice tests; any parent may administer)

Seton Testing Services
800-542-1066
testing@setontesting.com
Seton provides standardized achievement tests, cognitive abilities tests, career exploration tests, practice tests, an online algebra readiness test and test prep materials. Group discounts available.

CAT E-Survey: Tests for Reading, Language and Math only.
IOWA: Full Battery K-12
Interest Explorer w/ the IOWA
CogAT: Grades 2-12 alone or with the IOWA
TerrraNova 2 (CAT 6): Full Battery K-12 (includes Social Studies and Science)
TerraNova 2 (CAT 6): Survey Grades 2-4 and 6-12 (includes Social Studies and Science)
Survey edition of the TerraNova has fewer questions than Full Battery.
Online Algebra Placement Test
Scoring Higher Test Prep for IOWA and TerraNova
Official IOWA, TerraNova and CogAT practice test material from the publisher
Spectrum Test Prep Series

Thurber’s Educational Assessments
(919) 967-5282
(CAT/5, TerraNova, CAT/6 TerraNova 2 achievement tests and practice tests; $40 and up. Anyone who can read and follow directions may administer the tests.)

Triangle Education Assessments
919-387-7004
Standardized Achievement Tests: Iowa, Stanford (paper and online which doesn’t require a B.A.), TerraNova2—which is the new CAT/6 and doesn’t require a B.A, BASI, Woodcock-Johnson III, Brigance (for developmentally 7 years and younger)
Cognitive Abilities tests: CogAT, OSLAT (paper and online which doesn’t require a B.A.)
Career Tests: Strong, MBTI
Practice Tests
Group discount available

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.

Evaluations

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:

  • How much experience do you have with evaluations?
  • What are your educational credentials?
  • Do you have any references I may call?
  • Do you have experience with homeschoolers? (Discern if she is “homeschool-friendly.”)
  • What are your criteria for evaluation? What will you be looking for/at?
  • What will you need from me/my child when you arrive (or we meet you)?
  • How long will our session be?
  • What do you charge?
  • How long will it take for me to receive your report?
  • Will you include recommendations or suggestions for me?
  • Do you have experience with LD students (if applicable)?
  • Does my child have to be able to read (or read well?) for you to evaluate him?
  • Have you worked with parents in my school district before and have you had any concerns with acceptance of your evaluations by our superintendent?

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.

Portfolios

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:

  • Samples of your child’s work at various times during the year (presented chronologically to show progress)—requires advance planning!
  • Scope/sequence of the curriculum used for language arts and math, in particular (When I used this option, I included a listing for all subjects, to show we provided a well-rounded program of study, but I included samples only of the required language arts and math work for the superintendent.)
  • Photos of your child doing school work, on field trips, on sports teams, socializing with others, etc.
  • List of field trips.
  • List/description of extracurricular activities.
  • Reading log.
  • For younger child, you might include a tape of your child reading at various times during the year.
  • List/description of projects and achievements.

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.)


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