Is it time for standardized testing in your homeschool? Here are some things to keep in mind before you open those test results.
It’s homeschool standardized testing week for my family. This testing has been a part of our home education journey for years since we live in a state that requires it. Even so, something about the process skews my usually unshakable confidence and causes me to question whether we’re doing enough.
Thankfully that kind of thinking doesn’t last long. Once I go back to these reminders about testing and how it fits into our homeschool, I’m able to come back to my senses.
What I Remember Before the Homeschool Standardized Testing Begins Each Year
If you can relate to that testing-induced shakiness, I’d love to pass these reminders on to you so you can get back to leading and loving your kids during and after testing week:
1. Personalized education and standards don’t always jive.
My kids have only known a non-traditional approach to education. We focus on a learning lifestyle and follow Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy as a framework for what we cover, when we cover it, and how we cover it.
While I trust this framework and am happy with where it’s brought us thus far, it’s not standardized test-friendly, especially in the elementary years. All of that to say, no one likes to look at test results and see that things aren’t up to par.
That’s why I remind myself that, while my kids have to take these tests, they aren’t always a great way to gauge their educational progress. Instead, these tests better serve students educated according to a traditional educational model.
If they do well on the tests, great.
If they don’t do so well, I look at the problem areas and determine whether or not my kids should’ve had a better understanding of the concepts. I look for ways to review those areas if needed, but then I move on.
2. Spiral learning and standardized tests go hand in hand.
Speaking of personalized learning, I know the scores can only tell me so much about my kids and their progress because we focus on mastery rather than spiral learning in some areas.
Focusing on mastery presents an opportunity to truly master a single topic or skill before moving on to something else. Alternately, a spiral approach introduces a group of skills and builds on them level by level. In the case of a single math concept, here’s what it looks like:
A program designed according to the spiral approach might have a student learn multiplication facts in one level, multiply two-digit numbers in the next level, and multiply three-digit numbers in the following level.Demme Learning
At the end of both programs, the same concepts have been covered, but the order and the manner in which the students learn them differ significantly.
On a day-to-day basis, our preference of mastery doesn’t rock the boat. That’s not the case when homeschool standardized testing week is upon us because most schools teach using a spiral approach.
What do schools and their spiral methods have to do with our homeschool? Well, the tests we have to take are generally written for public or private schools. Since they’re written to test the standards, children who learn the concepts in a different order are at a disadvantage.
It doesn’t cause problems for my kids in all areas of testing, but it does leave them unprepared where math is concerned. That’s why we go into testing week knowing they will not know all the answers and will have to make a lot of educated guesses in some areas.
I share all of this to say that there will ALWAYS be material my kids don’t know and that’s okay. We’ll cover those things when we cover them, test or no test.
Looking for a standardized testing option that doesn't favor spiral learning? See the section on Map Growth Testing in our article about North Carolina testing requirements for a standardized test that adapts to your child's abilities rather than the standards alone.
3. Scores aren’t everything.
I was a good student in elementary, middle school, and high school. I was even placed in a smattering of gifted and honors programs over the years.
The same was true for my college years, though I did have to work harder to maintain that “good” label. Truthfully, I could’ve have been an excellent student with some discipline and more effort.
Despite all of this, you wouldn’t have guessed my potential based on some of my standardized test scores. They didn’t tell the same story and even created roadblocks for me in some cases.
All that to say, I know from experience that some people simply don’t test well. And, although many states require homeschoolers to test, the scores themselves will never tell the full story.
What standardized tests miss
Standardized tests can give us an idea of how our children understand specific academic concepts, but they’ll never truly capture all the magic going on in the mind of a child.
The tests don’t recognize the curiosity that leads a kiddo to tinker away and test parachute models with her toys, nor do they evaluate the imagination and creativity needed for a child to “play restaurant” by designing a themed menu with quirky meal names and descriptions and printing it for her plush customers.
There’s value in testing, but standardized tests can’t possibly measure the imagination and dedication needed to keep a kid swept away in a fantastical world and compelled to write fan fiction about that world for years.
What’s more, selecting between items A, B, C, D, or None of the Above will never demonstrate a child’s capacity for love, compassion, or friendship.
Again, standardized tests are valuable. They certainly help us understand part of the story, but we have to look at the whole child to see the story in its entirety. If we’re relying on test scores alone to validate or guide our educational decisions, we’ll fail to help them reach their full potential.
In closing, I do believe standardized tests can be helpful for homeschooling parents. They can reveal blind spots and provide valuable insight into our kids’ strengths and weaknesses.
Even so, we’ll do well to keep in mind that the tests are based on standards that may or may not guide or homeschools. That’s incentive enough to glance at the scores, make adjustments to our homeschool plans as needed, and then put them away to celebrate our kids for all they are.