When you think about assessment options, does it bring to mind those standardized tests . . . all the little bubbles, the smell of No. 2 pencils, and the feeling of sitting in a chair for hours . . . ?

So, can you picture your little Energizer Bunny in that chair? Maybe so . . . maybe not for long! But did you know that there are some other kinds of evaluation tools might be more appropriate for your young learner?

First, does your state’s homeschool law require your child to be assessed?
You’ll want to know whether your state requires you to test (or otherwise evaluate) your child. If the answer is yes, you can check out this really helpful intro to standardized testing, these tips about standardized testing and young children (yay for options like untimed tests, portfolios, and evaluators!), and this advice on preparing your child for testing.

Some early childhood experts have expressed concern that standardized tests are generally not the best fit for 5-, 6-, or 7-year-olds. (You can read more about concerns with and reasons for early formal testing here.)

Fortunately, you have a lot of other options that are, as we say in the education world, more developmentally appropriate for kids in this age range or even younger.

So what kind of options are available?

It depends on what you are trying to find out: where your child has been, where they are now, or what you need to focus on in the future? Or maybe all three?

If you are specifically looking for ways to figure out what your young child is ready to learn right now or their approximate grade level in different subjects, you can get a wide range of great ideas in this series.

However if you’re interested in options for evaluating your child’s progress at the end of the year or some other regular basis and you want to be able to identify specific skills or knowledge to work on moving forward, keep reading!

The big picture: Consider using performance and observation assessments

These kinds of assessment, which really just involve writing down (in an organized way) what you see your child doing, allow you as a teacher to identify and record actual predictors of success. These are things like executive function skills, cooperative learning, and problem-solving. Performance and observational assessments are based on your child’s unique growth and development, and relate to the learning experiences that you know your child has had.

And since young children learn best through play, you can weave developmentally appropriate assessments right into your child’s customized, hands-on, play-intensive homeschool learning experiences. Here’s a few quick examples:

Watch your 5-year-old interacting with books. Does your child try to read a book by using picture clues or by reading some words by sight?

  • Listen and watch as your 6-year-old plays with their peers. Is your child able to play cooperatively with others for at least 20 minutes?
  • Take note of your 7- or 8-year-old’s ability to solve problems on their own. Can your child locate school materials without help? Will they will attempt to solve academic problems by going to a dictionary, a math journal, or other resource tool before asking for help? When interacting with friends, do they try to empathize with others’ viewpoints, identify causes of conflicts, and think of a fair solution to disagreements prior to getting an adult involved?

So, now you’ve got the idea of how these less formal, more appropriate kinds of evaluations work, let’s explore some specific ways of recording and organizing your observations of your child.

Zooming In: Some Specific Alternatives to Formal Testing

Anecdotal records, portfolios, and checklists are excellent alternatives to the more traditional standardized test. Instead of comparing your child with other children within the same chronological age range, you are comparing your child to themselves. When used throughout the school year, all of these assessment tools will give you information about where your child has been, where they are now, and what you need to focus on in the future.

Anecdotal Records

That term sounds fancy, but it really isn’t. To keep an anecdotal record simply means to write down what you observe your child doing in a given situation.

Assessment-Options-for-Young-Children-Sample-Anecdotal-Record-KW-compressorYou can even create DIY anecdotal records notebooks like these! Photo courtesy of HSLDA/Krisa Winn

For instance, if you are teaching letter identification, you could write down what letter or letters your child knows front and back and which ones they are particularly struggling with on that particular day. If you are teaching manners, you can take note of when you saw your 5-year-old hold the door open for an older person.

You can jot your observations daily—as they happen to happen—or you can be more intentional and focus in on specific skills every three months or so. The latter strategy would help you document progress over a year’s time.

The areas included in your anecdotal record depends on your child and the goals or skills you are currently working on. Many times, homeschool moms are focused on academic skills such as math, reading, phonics, writing, etc. But, with this type of evaluation, you can assess other areas of development such as fine motor skills, gross motor skills, speech development, social emotional development, functional living skills, or character development.

It doesn’t really matter how you create these records. You could simply keep a spiral notebook nearby as you work with your children. And if you see an area that needs improvement or witness an “aha!” moment, you’re ready to quickly record it in the spiral, along with the date, of course.

Some moms capture their observations on a clipboard with paper and pen attached, in lieu of a notebook. Other moms might use sticky notes that they can transfer into each child’s notebook or file later in the day. You could even use an app on your laptop, phone, or tablet to record your child’s developmental wins and growth opportunities!

In order for this type of assessment to be most useful and effective as an end-of- year evaluation, you’ll want to have in mind what skills/behaviors you are looking for on the front end, and consistently make record of your observations. At the end of the school year, all of those little moments add up to a big picture of your child’s learning!

Portfolio

Do you like collecting things or creating albums and presentations? If so, you might enjoy the portfolio approach to documenting your child’s development over time!

It’s similar to anecdotal records in that it is informal, you choose what is included, and it will typically cover one school year. The difference is that a portfolio might include projects, lists of field trips taken or books read, cumulative tests, as well as your anecdotal records.

For very young children, it’s a great idea to include samples of how your child writes his name, cuts out a simple object, or draws a person. Gathering samples at the start of school, and then again every nine weeks or so, will give you a lot of information about your child’s growth over the year.

So, you might be wondering, “How do I pull together and present all these different kinds of samples, activities, and records in my child’s portfolio?” This is where you can let your creativity soar!

Some parents like to put everything in a cardboard box or plastic tub. Others gather it all in a very large binder with lots of pocket dividers. And the style can range from very simple to elaborate—you can find lots of inspiring designs and plenty of printables online: try searching “homeschool portfolio” on Pinterest. The possibilities are endless and the choice is up to you!

When it comes to creating a portfolio, the container isn’t as important as the contents! Whatever your presentation design, you’ll want to make sure that the outside is clearly labeled with your child’s name and the school year and that the inside tells your child’s school story.

Portfolio Resources

Checklists

So, checklists are a bit more formal way to assess your child’s progress. You can create your own checklists or purchase commercially made products.

Assessment-Options-for-Young-Children-Sample-Checklist-KW-compressorHere’s a simple sample homemade checklist for math skills. Photo courtesy of HSLDA/Krisa Winn

Checklists are useful for assessing all sorts of early learning skills. In addition to letter identification, other academic skills that are easy to assess with checklists include rhyming words, syllables, letter sounds, and numeral identification, just to name a few. Of course, you can also use checklists to assess developmental skills.

Checklist Resources

  • Here are some free printable Pre-K checklists.
  • Scope and sequences can be another source for ready-to-use checklists or provide content to select from in creating your custom checklists.

So now you know that there are a lot of different ways to get a good grasp of what your young child is learning and what they need to learn! Even if your state requires or you choose testing for another reason, you’ve got ideas for making your child’s experience less stressful with things like untimed tests and before-the-test tips.

Most importantly—you know your child! And, aside from state requirements, you’re free to confidently pick the type of assessment that would be the best fit for your young learner right now.  

Lastly, if you’re an HSLDA member and have questions about testing or evaluation, or are wondering if your kiddo might be experiencing some learning delays or difficulties, please feel free to reach out to HSLDA’s Educational Consultants. We’d love to help you