Have you ever wondered, “Is my child is really ready for formal testing . . . ?”

Did you know that some early education[1] and child development experts[2] have voiced concerns about standardized testing being a good fit—or “developmentally appropriate”—for kids younger than around 8 or grade 3?[3]

When we stop and think about it, concerns like this just sound like basic common sense. Testing can for sure be very stressful for a young child if . . .

  • they aren’t yet able to sit still and do seat work for extended periods of time.
  • they are hungry, thirsty, tired, or grumpy—any of these physical or emotional states can overwhelm their ability to focus and affect test results.
  • they can’t understand the directions well enough on their own—test administrators or proctors are directed to only provide instructions that are printed in the test manual—no more and no less. 
  • the test is designed to measure a child’s given knowledge at a point in time and can’t take into account their unique and gradual growth in ability and understanding
  • they’ve had a bad testing experience due to any of the above and now have anxiety about future tests.

In fact, after reviewing lots of research on kindergarten instruction and assessment, a group of early childhood experts at the Alliance for Childhood cautioned that standardized tests “are prone to serious error especially when given to children under age eight” and recommended not even giving those tests to kindergartners![4]

So, you might be wondering, is there a better way to assess my young child’s learning?

Why, yes, there is! And it’s at the intersection of common sense and research.

Alternatives to standardized tests

As a parent who knows your child well, you can choose from a wide variety of assessment options that flow so naturally into your child’s daily learning and play rhythms that they are likely not even aware that you are assessing them. (Which is actually just the kind of assessment early childhood experts recommend.)[5]

You can check out Assessment Options for Young Children to learn more about some pretty simple (and even fun!) ways to assess your young child at any time—like anecdotal records, portfolios, and checklists.

Are there any reasons I might want to consider testing my young child?

Yes, here are a few. (See our tips in the next section about picking untimed tests and links for preparing your child for testing.)

You might consider having your student take a standardized test if . . .

  • You can tell your child is already mature enough—physically, mentally, and emotionally—to confidently handle formal testing.
  • Perhaps you as a parent feel more comfortable and confident with formal testing over other assessment options and you really want outside, objective feedback on your child’s progress.
  • Maybe your child’s current curriculum didn’t come with a built-in scope-and-sequence, so you’d like to use a standardized test to help you identify any inadvertent gaps or skills you might have overlooked. (Say you’ve pulled together a great simple eclectic curriculum with some workbooks, lots of library books, a couple lapbooks, a few unit studies, and nature walks and journaling. And maybe your child is strong in workbook math skills like counting, adding, and subtracting. . . . A standardized test might help you realize, “Oh, we need to be sure to do a little hands on practice in measurement and telling time.” Or perhaps phonics is a big hit with your child and they love sounding out new words in stories! Testing could help highlight other basic reading skills like comprehension and allow you to choose when and how to work those into your child’s learning journey.)

What if my state law requires me to test my child before 3rd grade?

The good news is that most states allow you to use a more personal, flexible, and age-adaptable alternative, such as a (here’s that handy tool again!) portfolio or a third-party evaluator.

You might also choose a less rigorous introduction to testing—maybe an untimed test like the Stanford 10 or the untimed lower grade levels offered by Iowa Form E. (You can find helpful guidance for selecting a test here and check out these tips for preparing your child to feel confident, do their best on testing, and keep test scores in perspective.)

If your state’s compulsory attendance doesn’t begin until age 7 (and your child has not yet attended any school), you likely aren’t required to file any homeschool paperwork (including testing) until your child is 7. So meanwhile, you could simply enjoy learning and growing with your child at home—and assess their progress in whatever way you think fits them best, free from the pressure of paperwork or formal testing.

Just be sure to check your state’s compulsory attendance and homeschool requirements. If you’re an HSLDA member, we recommend reaching out to our Legal Team here for specific advice for your situation.

The main thing to know is that you as the parent have a lot of options for assessing your child and that generally you are free to choose a less formal—and probably less stressful!—way to assess your kiddo while they are in this younger age range.