for Standardized Testing
Beverly S. Krueger
To test or not to test—that is the
question. I don't believe there is one set answer about testing
for every situation. Obviously if your state law requires that you
test, you will have to test or break the law. However, in those
situations where testing has not been mandated by state law, when
is it appropriate to test?
New homeschoolers who are worried that
they are not meeting all their children's educational needs
or those who think that they might be letting something slip through
the cracks may find testing reassuring. I don't think testing
is such an onerous burden on children that you should avoid it rather
than relieve some of your own stress. Testing can be a real learning
situation for both you and your children. You may very well learn
that you don't really need to test again, because the test
bears out what you had already thought about your children's
If you are in a negative situation with family members,
parents, your spouse or even an ex-spouse where showing a test score
can stop their harassment over academic issues, then test. There's
nothing like an above average test score to stop complaints. Just
be careful that you don't trumpet a high score too loudly.
If the children score lower the next year, you may be in for more
trouble. Even with good results, test scores won't stop arguments
about socialization or other non-academic issues.
When your children
reach Junior High age, you can start testing them to prepare them
for their college entrance tests. This is particularly true if you
do not regularly test from their curriculum. Test taking skills
are not always automatically developed. Practice, when the test
doesn't really matter, can help build confidence. It can also
help your children to begin to understand the logic used in preparing
test questions. My daughter loves to talk about test questions after
the test. She'll tell you the question and the answers that
could have been right and why she would have picked answer B. She'll
then explain that she knows that answer A is the answer they wanted,
but if one looked at things from her point of view answer B was
a far better answer. However, she answered A, because you have to
go along with them to get a good score.
If someone besides yourself
is providing major portions of your children's education, you
should test. For example, if you are part of a co-op, where each
parent teaches one subject, you would want to test to see if what
each parent is telling you about your children is reflected in the
If you are going to test, you should follow a few guidelines
to make the investment worthwhile.
First, if at all possible
administer the test yourself. There are tests available that
anyone can administer. When you administer the test, you set the
dates and times when the test is administered. Test at the time
when you know your children are at their best. You can also keep
the atmosphere relaxed.
Second, always read the test questions
and your children's answers. The results you will receive
are not nearly as helpful as knowing exactly what your child had
problems with on the test. You'll also be able to determine
which portions of the test covered items you have not yet covered.
This is especially true of science or social studies sections of
tests. If you spent your year learning about ancient Egypt and the
test presumes you covered early American history, your child is
going to miss more questions. However, when I have tested my children,
I have often been surprised that they knew answers to questions
we hadn't studied. If you are testing because you want to determine
how your children are doing academically, you really have to read
the questions and know what was being tested.
Third, keep the
test in perspective both for yourself and your children. It
should not be the single meter for success for an entire year of
homeschooling. It is just one tool, used for very limited purposes.
Most children want to know how they did. Don't make a big deal
of it, and certainly don't tell them they failed the test if
they get a low score. There is no way to fail a test that is designed
to determine strengths and weaknesses. One year when my son scored
quite low on the spelling section of a test, I didn't rebuke
him for being a bad speller. I determined that the spelling program
I was using wasn't working. He'd been doing pretty well
on his weekly spelling lists, but the test showed it wasn't
sticking with him. It might not take an achievement test to make
me see the need for a curriculum change now, but it did help then.
you do decide to test your children, select a test that will best
meet your needs and be appropriate for your child. See Testing Resources
on page nine for addresses of testing services which provide a variety
of tests. Don't expect more from your child than he is capable
of giving. Remember, while testing is not the only means to determine
how your child is doing, it can be useful under the right circumstances
Against Standardized Testing
My aversion to standardized testing dates back to my public
school days when I would see excellent students fall apart either in anticipation
of or as a result of THE TEST. The ominous test kept multitudes on edge
for weeks beforehand as teachers "taught to the test" and students
"stressed to the test", then continued its reign while students,
parents and teachers alike awaited the arrival of those all-important
Not everyone stressed out over these tests; I can't say I
remember ever having done so. Yet what was a game for some of us - a government-mandated
excuse to leave daily routine behind - was for others a nightmare of inhumane
proportions. I don't remember ever having seen a study relating physical
illness and "Standardized Test Anxiety," but I am confident
there is one; the ravages of stress on the human body have been proven
time and again.
And what purpose did all of this serve? It revealed those
who were able to work well (and quickly) in spite of stress, those who
had memorized a specific body of facts, and those who had learned the
tricks of test taking. Did the results assist any of the teachers in their
teaching? No, not according to the teachers I've spoken with. Being
forced to spend so much time teaching to the test precluded weeks or even
months of real teaching and evaluation. Did the results help students
and parents? Well..not much, in my opinion - especially since the parents
seldom knew what their children were being tested on.
to standardized tests has not waned since I began homeschooling. I consider
it absurd to think that someone "out there" can compile a test
that will accurately assess my children when my sons, our curriculum,
and our approach to education are all unique. What if the test writer
determines that a sixth grader should be familiar with a certain topic
but I feel it ought not be introduced until eighth grade? Woosh! There
goes the test score, and through no fault of the student, who is likely
well-versed in bodies of knowledge and understanding that the test does
not touch. So what good would this test's score do me? Little, unless
I wished to compare my children to a nation full of other children, which
I would rather not do, thankyouverymuch.
While I can see certain limited
uses for these tests in the homeschool, I consider them to be mostly a
waste of time and money. What of import can they tell the parent/teacher
that he or she does not already know? I do realize I am merely an individual
however, with personal opinions and only my own life experiences to fall
back on. Knowing a balanced article requires more than this, I hopped
on the Internet and did some cruising. You may be surprised by some of
what I've found.
In the interest of brevity, I'll jump to THE
standardized test, the SAT (not to be confused with the Stanford Achievement
Test), which most of us likely remember taking before graduating from
high school. For decades, SAT scores have been foundational to the college
admissions acceptance processes. Now, however, a growing number of American
colleges and universities (280+) are admitting some or all of their applicants
without regard to SAT or ACT scores. Why?
According to a study done by
the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) and released
in October of 1998, educational establishments have realized that...
- De-emphasizing standardized admissions tests promotes
both equity and excellence.
- Focus on test scores deters many qualified students
(primarily minority, low-income and female students).
- High school performance is the best available method
for screening applicants.
- Tests add little useful information to the high school
of ACT/SAT optional colleges, available at the FairTest website,is
impressive and includes colleges from the private liberal arts level to
large state university systems. One cannot help but wonder if these colleges'
findings will eventually affect the national attitude toward standardized
testing in general.
Many other interesting pieces of information are available
online. A January 1998
FairTest press release opens with, "Students in states with mandatory
high school graduation tests perform worse on a neutral measure of academic
performance than students from states with lower-stakes assessment systems."
2002 SAT scores are available. These results have been broken down by race,
gender and income.
On several websites you will find reminders that any
individual's test score may vary from one day to the next, because
scores are affected greatly by testing conditions and by the individual's
mental, physical or emotional state.
The fact is there are much more reliable
assessment options available. The teacher parent who is involved in the
learning process knows exactly where her students stand because she is there. She can judge academic performance and understanding much
more accurately by watching her students on a daily basis, and through
the continual give and take that is part of the homeschooling lifestyle.
While she may have to test for her state's accountability requirements,
or may choose to find out how her child's body of knowledge and test
taking skills stack up - within specific parameters - against those of
students across the nation, a standardized test is certainly nothing she