To Test or Not to Test…Should I Test My Homeschooler?

Many homeschoolers must test due to state regulations.

Many homeschoolers choose to test to track progress and fill in educational gaps.

Many homeschoolers educate at home precisely to avoid testing.

Which is right? As with many hot topics in the homeschooling community, I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer. Our state does not require it (thank goodness!) and I usually fall into the last category. The only testing we have done around here is the Math U See tests that follow at the end of each chapter.  I usually avoid testing like the plague. I grew up taking LOTS of tests (and acing them) only to forget the information the next day.

And I believe our flawed educational system is set up on a system of testing and tracking that ultimately fails our kids. Teachers struggle to fit all the information in that will be required of students taking the tests. There is little time to enjoy exploring subjects deeply. There are no rabbit trails to follow. Most history and science is repeated year after year (albeit at a slightly more complex level) so there are huge gaps of history and science that never get studied at all or are crammed into a short four-year high school level. Most teachers long to explore innovative new ways to teach and interact with their students. Most never get the chance because curriculum is already dictated due to test scores. This is exactly the kind of thinking that made my husband and I originally decide to homeschool in the first place. We remember what school was like and we knew we didn’t want that for our children.

My husband and I recently watched the Waiting for Superman documentary. It was completely fascinating. I agreed with a lot of the flaws and problems that crop up in our education system. Where I choose to part ways is in the solution. Their solution? Longer school days, more days of school, more push for excellence and higher test scores. I was saddened. The worst part was their discussion of tracking and how it automatically shuts out some students (usually of the poorer class) for upper college track learning. It made this out to be a horrible problem. These poor students could end up as…gasp…farmers or in a technical skilled position. Here’s my rub…why is being a farmer bad? Why is being an electrician not as important as being a doctor or lawyer or CEO executive? How could that doctor even function without food in his belly to provide energy unless the farmer provides his food? How could that doctor perform surgery unless an electrician makes sure his lights and equipment have the proper conduits to work? And, my experience has taught me, college isn’t needed for everyone. Working your way up in a company (used to be called apprenticeship) is, in many cases, more valuable to getting where you want in a job then a piece of paper with a completed degree.

 

This year we chose to test Gabe. Not in an official state-standardized sort of way, but in a more laid-back see-what-you-know sort of way. A couple of years ago I recieved a free copy of Spectrum Grade 4 Test Prep. It is a practice workbook for taking a standardized test. It covers Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science. I was never sure if I was going to use it or not but held onto it anyway.

Why would I subject him to this if I feel so strongly in the other direction? Good question. The answer for me is complex and simple at the same time. In it’s simplest form, we wanted Gabe to have the experience of sitting down and knowing what it was like to take a test. We wanted him to be exposed to the art of having to take a test with all its pressures. I also wanted to know how we, as a homeschool family, stacked up against public education. (This was just for my own personal curiosity.) We’ve covered, for the most part, one full cycle of history including government and he is well-read in science. This, for me, would answer how well he retained some of the information we did study as well as how he would do with the pressure of having to answer questions on information he may have not been exposed to yet.

For instance, he officially has not studied fractions in math (we are doing that in fifth grade based on our curriculum choice) yet I know he’s read of fractions and worked with them in real-life situations. There is a whole test page on fractions in the math section. How will he do with assimulating this new information and making an educated guess?

On a more complex level, this also gives him a glimpse into the life of a public-schooled student. Answering worksheets like this? Standard for the public-schooled student. Worksheets are a daily habit. Multiple-choice tests are a standard, weekly practice. The tediousness of reading a section of text that is, usually, quite boring and then having to “comprehend” that information in the form of questions is status quo for the public-schooled student. Our family has been on a steady diet of living books, not dry text books. Part of me wanted him to have a bit of appreciation for how we do school as opposed to how he could be doing school. And the art of sitting down and just having to complete something no matter how boring or tedious is good for the character. A steady diet of it will kill the love of learning but a good dose every once in a while is good medicine!

That said, this test was hardly stressful. There was no timer. Bathroom breaks were permitted whenever he felt like. He could have a drink sitting next to him as he worked. And I, as the “teacher”, had the privilege of eliminating the crap part of the tests. (Is it really necessary to fill out a page about a personal narrative or answer questions about a bar graph that my second grader could ace or give politically correct answers to philosophies that our family doesn’t adhere to?) We just adjusted the grading to figure percent per area based on questions answered correctly divided by total number of questions.

At first he was excited…something new and different. He quickly changed his tune when he ran into a question he didn’t know because we had never gone over it.  His views on fairness were challenged. This was good fodder for us to discuss the education system and the parts he will eventually have to take part in whether he wants to or not. The experience also allowed us to learn about some heart issues of character that needed to be addressed.

He did excellent in Language Arts and Mathematics. Social Studies was his downfall. This was not because he didn’t necessarily know some of the material (although that played it’s part as we’ve concentrated on chronological history and have not spent a great deal of time on “social studies” of his immediate neighborhood), mainly he just refused to answer some of the questions. When asked he said this was his least favorite subject. I explained on how not answering a question brings down his overall grade and we talked about educated guesses and how to glean new information from the context of surrounding information.

Surprisingly, he also didn’t score as well in science. Which was unexpected for me because he loves science and is always walking around reading science books. Is it certain elementary jargon he’s not familar with? Is it asking questions of scientific topics he’s not really interested in? His interests lie mainly with electricity and chemistry and the elements. Would I be better informed to find out what he does know? I will be contemplating this further as I set up a more Charlotte Mason style test as I know this will give me a more accurate view! Check back for discussion on that!

Now, I am not being honest unless I admit I was a bit afraid of even giving him this test. I knew this was a good thing and would help his father and I evaluate where he is academically, where we feel he should be, and if that is due to testing bias or if there is really a gap in our teaching. But this meant flaying me open for vulnerability. How would I, as teacher, be judged? As I was grading his work my heart was racing and I realized that this test reflected on me as much as him. Or, at least, I felt it did even if it wasn’t suppose to. I had to take it to prayer and ask the Lord to show me what was really important, how I should view the scores, what we should change (if anything) and, most importantly, if this is an experience we will repeat with future children or whether it was even worth our time. Those questions have yet to be answered. But at least I was honest with the pros and cons of the experience. And, if nothing else, it just reaffirmed for me that testing academics is such a narrow view of how your student is progressing. The best part of this experience that I will take away is learning about my son’s heart, not his score!

I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations.” ~ Winston Churchhill

For more discussion and thinking on this hot topic ~

Would love to hear your views on testing in the comments!

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

14 thoughts on “To Test or Not to Test…Should I Test My Homeschooler?

  1. That was excellent Amy. I struggled with the same thing with Noelle this year. In Ohio we are required to participate in some form of standardized testing or complete a learning portfolio. Since we had an unusual year, a portfolio was out of the question. So, I had to find a way to complete the standardized testing – however, I was able to find away around having to bring her into a testing facility. I found a website that allows homeschooling parents to administer California Achievement Tests (CAT) to their own children, at the discretion of the parents. Since Ohio only specifies that a test administrator be approved by the test-provider, this testing company fit that requirement. The company is Crosspointe Educational Services @ http://www.cestesting.com. They were great to work with and I received everything when I was supposed to. I’d recommend them to anyone required to test their homeschoolers. It allowed us to test at home, which was way less stressful, but still provided us the documentation required to meet our state standards.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I definitely can say that I’ve asked myself the same question you wrote above, “How would I, as a teacher, be judged?”

    Our 13 yo daughter is now enrolled in a homeschool umbrella that requires yearly testing. Our previous umbrella did not, so we weren’t required to test. This past spring she tested for the first time since beginning our homeschool journey 4 years ago. I was so nervous. I did my best to act normal. We did a practice test, Spectrum, the same publisher you mention a above. She tanked her practice test (hence the nerves) but she did quite well on the Stanford Achievement Test. Her test results don’t qualify me as a teacher but I felt that I somehow needed that validation.

    Thanks again for sharing. I particularly love the Winston Churchill quote.

  3. Just found your blog! I really connect with this. My husband and I have discussed those very issues about education vs. career. In fact, Waiting for Superman is on it’s way from Netflix!

    My oldest is 7 so we have not really tested, either. I do feel like I’ll need to focus more on those small tests in her math this year, just to make sure she can do things on her own and not with me standing over her shoulder all the time.

  4. This was the first year we tested. I have a 6th, 5th and 2nd grader. We tested through Seton Home Testing. I just wanted to see that we were heading in the right direction before entering the middle school years. They all scored wonderfully and we talked afterwards about what they thought they needed work on etc. (which wasn’t really much) I don’t want to teach for the test, but every 3-4 years it might be nice to see where we are in the scope of things, more for my knowledge of what we might be not as strong in. Great article. Stopping by from THMJ!

  5. Interesting thoughts. We’re blessed to live in an area that doesn’t require testing either. I totally agree with you about the trades. Do you watch Dirty Jobs? Mike Rowe did a presentation to the senate about the trades/skilled labor, presenting the case that they are an absolutely vital part of society and a big reason for the unemployment rates being so high is that people feel the “dirty jobs” are for the people not smart enough to get into college. “Smart people” go to university and become doctors. Our society is so messed up. Isn’t it sad that we think the doctor is someone special while the guy who built the road for the doctor’s mercedes to drive on, or even the mercedes for that matter, is just someone not smart enough to get into college.
    We are going to be encouraging our boys towards trades/skilled labor and not pushing them into the academic route unless they decide they want to go that way. There is no shame in an honest days work at a dirty job, lol.

  6. It’ll be a while before we have to think too deeply about testing too, particularly since our state doesn’t require any. But it certainly is an interesting topic. I agree that, particularly in a one-on-one teaching environment where the parent is not only teaching, but also selecting the curriculum, it does reflect on the teacher a lot. I wouldn’t take those science scores too much to heart, though. The tests are standardized tests; homeschool is nearly always non-standard; it’s one of the strengths people choose to homeschool for: they are specifically rejecting the “standard” education in favor of something they believe to be better. I think it’s also fair to say that those tests reflect upon the people who write them, at least as much as the ones who teach and the ones who sit for them.

  7. Hi Amy, You visited my blog and posted a question about chicken feet stock…I will say that it had a different smell than when I make stock with a whole chicken. I’m not sure why but the smell was somewhat like a butcher shop…I don’t know if that makes sense to you but that’s what I thought of when it was cooking. I didn’t put onions or anything else in with the feet and that may have contributed to the strange odor…and it could have just been the fact that the feet themselves sort of turned my stomach when I was getting them ready. All in my mind sort of thing:)
    The recipes I found online didn’t call for it but if/when I do this again I will put onions, celery and carrot in the broth while it simmers. I think that would make it better.
    BTW I love this post about testing…I homeschooled all my kids all the way through HS graduation and this was something we dealt with. I could write a post on this subject but in a nutshell I didn’t put a lot of stock in standardized test but I did occasionally use them. Mainly to get my kids used to reading the type of questions that were asked and how to use a bubble in answer sheet.

  8. Ritsumei ~ I’ve been thinking about the science and here’s the thing…IF he were in public school he would be labeled average or poor in science. But really, he is VERY gifted in this area and it is one of his most favorite subjects. Because he is here with me then I know he excels in this area, but if he was public schooled then I would be under a different impression!

  9. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a farmer or an electrician or any other sort of trade. We do need those jobs, and a lot of people would be much happier doing them than working in an office building somewhere. The reason I think tracking is a bad thing is because it removes the element of choice – it’s one thing to choose to be an electrician or a plumber or a mechanic because you enjoy the work, and it’s another thing to be herded into one of those professions like a cow in a chute, never knowing whether something else might have suited you better.

  10. Amy, thank you for this encouraging post!
    I live in a state that requires testing and I do stress about it. I’ve been hsing for 10 years and there have been years when I allowed that anxiety to direct my homeschooling. Those years yeilded very frustrated kids and mom! It’s more productive to be true to who we all are through the homeschooling year : )

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