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To Test or Not to Test

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By Beverly S. Krueger and Tammy M. Cardwell

Arguments for Standardized Testing:To test or not to test

Arguments 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 progress.

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 test.

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.

If 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 and conditions.

Arguments Against Standardized Testing
Tammy Cardwell

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 results.

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.

My aversion 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 record.

The list 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."

The 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 needs.

Copyright ©  1998 Eclectic Homeschool Association

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