As a homeschooler, you’re with your kids all the time, so you likely have a pretty good idea of how they’re doing without testing. And you don’t have to stress your child with lots of tests they don’t need.

But sometimes you may want (or need) a way to measure their progress or figure out what grade level they are in. So, a placement test may be just the right tool. 

Types of Less Formal Placement Test Tools

Knowing which test-tool to grab depends on the work you want them to do. So, what’s the job you’re looking to do?

Identifying What My Student Knows How to Do

Concepts in skill subjects, like math and language arts, usually build on previous knowledge. So, you may need a tool that helps you figure out your child’s current knowledge and skill base so you can place her in the right level for success.

  • Curriculum-specific Placement Tests—Many curriculum providers offer free placement tests, so you easily can start with those. This is a great tool especially because, even though subjects like math and grammar must cover required content over time, many curriculum publishers take unique approaches and don’t all cover content in the same order.

Maybe you’re like most homeschoolers and have discovered the need to switch curricula midway. (Yes, it happens to the best of us!) So, how do you know where to begin with the new math program—since different publishers can approach the same subject differently and your child is not starting at the beginning of the year?

  • Chapter Tests—Well, your child can try taking each chapter test until she gets to one that’s a struggle. Voila! Start with the chapter just before that one!

You have the freedom to go ahead and do what’s best for your child. You can adapt and use the best curriculum tool instead of feeling stuck with something not well-suited for the job at hand.

What Does My Child Know and Understand?

Concepts in content subjects, like social studies and science, are often presented in a different order by various publishers. And sometimes they all don’t include exactly the same information in similar courses! In this case you may be trying to find out what your child knows and understands.

  • Scope-and-sequence checklists from the curriculum you’re considering might be more helpful than a formal test. As you review the checklists, you could verbally talk your child through the content and see what she knows. This is also a great approach if you’re following a “real books” or “literature rich” approach to learning instead of formalized curriculum.
  • Verbal Narration of Content—Speaking of talking, the inspiring child-as-a-whole-person educator, Charlotte Mason, strongly advocated for encouraging verbal narration of content over formal testing. When your child verbalizes what they know, the information builds more deeply into the brain. So this is a great tool for not only for placing your child, but also deepening the learning. It’s a multi-purpose tool, and who doesn’t want that?
  • DIY Tests—Or  you could get creative and make your own test using the key points from each chapter. Check out Quizlet for a fun way to create one online.

Formal Tests

Are you in a state or school district where you are required to provide standardized test scores to prove progress? Or do you want to test your child just for your own information as you guide their education?

Yes? Then you’re already on track with some formal “achievement” test scores that you can upcycle and repurpose for figuring out your student’s learning readiness.

  • Standardized Tests—You can learn all about ways to use standardized testing for either year-end assessment or learning level placement in this introduction to standardized testing.

But maybe you need a tool that looks at more than just content knowledge for your child. Maybe you’d like to get an idea of their skills needed for learning as well. In that case, a basic skills test could be the tool you need.

Basic Skills Tests (Not Single Subject Tests)

  • Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills—The Brigance Test is a popular and helpful way to get a picture of your child’s basic skills. There are three versions, two of which can be rented by members through our bookstore.
  • Specific Skills Tests—Another option would be to use diagnostic tests from a service like Let’s Go Learn for specifically assessing math or reading skills from the comfort of your home. This website also offers resources for helping your child to grow in these skills.

Remember that providers of scope-and-sequence guides or placement tests may be generalizing for a particular school population, or they may be tailoring their placement tests to their own products.

So, while you’re gonna be sure to cover any requirements for your state, still remember your freedom to choose what is best for your child. Use any standardized test, placement test, or scope-and-sequence checklist simply as a tool, not as the instruction manual for your homeschool.

Now What?

Once you’ve figured out where your child “is” in a given subject area, you can set goals for the year. Then you can choose materials to help you meet those goals.

It’s comforting to remember that children learn at different rates, so it’s pretty typical for a homeschooled child to work different grade levels for different subjects. (And you’ll find some great tips for customizing your child’s education to meet different grade level needs right in Part 4.)

You could think of your child’s academic growth as a progression from one mastery level to the next, rather than rigid grade-level expectations. A skills checklist or scope-and-sequence guideline can simply help keep track of your self-prescribed milestones.

You have the freedom to think outside the grade level box. Have fun thinking more along the lines of a skills mastery and what-delights-my-child-love-right-now box!

If you still feel a bit lost in the myriad of options in the “testing toolbox”, please remember that, if you’re an HSLDA member, you can call our Educational Consultants. They can serve as your homeschool guidance counselors!