Does your state require standardized testing for your child? And if so, what are the requirements? If your state doesn’t require testing, what reason is there to still use a standardized tests? Standardized testing doesn’t have to be a big ordeal for homeschool families, and once you understand the various options, it can become part of your regular yearly routine.
1. Testing requirements by state
Not all states require standardized testing for homeschoolers, others require that you take a test and turn it in, and there are states in between. A2ZHomeschooling has put together an easy to read chart to understand what your state requires. To stay up to date with any changes, I suggest either staying in touch with your local homeschooling community through Yahoo groups, or another medium, or getting on the HSLDA mailing list. One note: HSLDA has some conservative Christian leanings, so there may be articles that don’t concern you, or you don’t agree with. Still, until there’s an alternative, it is a beneficial service in the homeschooling world. In sha Allah the Muslim community will start making strides in the homeschooling community to provide similar resources.
2. Types of tests available
There are many tests available, but I’ve listed the most common, and what makes them different. Each family has different priorities and will therefore choose different tests. All of these are generally recognized as sufficient for standardized testing requirements, but double-check with your state or school district to be certain one test is accepted in your area.
♦ CAT (California Achievement Test)
The CAT is the shortest test on this list since it only covers language and math. You can order and administer the test yourself, regardless of whether you have a Bachelor’s degree or not (some tests require a BA or BS). Some families will choose this test because of the shorter time, especially if they have a large family or don’t feel testing is valuable and only need to fulfill the requirement.
♦ ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills)
ITBS is the only test on this list that also includes study skills, like using reference materials and maps. Unlike the CAT, it includes sections for science and social studies, plus an optional cognitive abilities test. The parent needs to have a Bachelor’s degree in order to administer the test for their student, or for others. I use this myself, simply because it was widely used in the public schools in our area for quite some time. The nay-sayers in our life have some experience with the test, and consider it a valid exam.
Standford tests are unique in that they offer a flexile measure in their most basic exam, along with the standard language, math, science, and social studies. Again, a parent needs a BA or BS to administer the exam, and when purchasing through BJU Press, you must watch a training video as well (assuming you do not have full-time teaching experience).
There has been talk that the Terra Nova test will be replacing the CAT since it was originally a spin-off of the CAT. Terra Nova exams include language, math, science, and social studies. Like the CAT, you do not need a Bachelor’s degree to administer the test to your student.
The Peabody test is a favorite in our local community because it’s a verbal test. Struggling readers, or students who have trouble sitting for extended periods of time, enjoy the conversation-feel of the Peabody test. If you have a struggling reader, I would highly suggest the Peabody so the reading aspect of the test won’t unnecessarily lower the scores of all sections of the test. Science test scores should not suffer because of a reading challenge. The Peabody test must be administered by a certified Peabody Administrator and there are many administrators now offering testing via Skype, making it very convenient!
3. Why test if it’s not required?
Many people choose not to test at all, feeling it isn’t a good use of time, and it provides little to no real life experience that will be valuable later in life. Others may decide that it’s a helpful tool to know if there are gaps in their child’s education, and if they are keeping up with their peers. For families that face opposition from family or friends for their homeschooling decision, testing can provide a third-party opinion on the validity of their homeschool. Talk with your family and decide what works for you.
4. What to do with the test results?
Remember, whatever test your choose, it is a tool in your homeschool tool belt. The test does not make or break your homeschool, but it can help you determine if a certain curriculum resource is working for your child. Did they not make any progress in math this year after you switched to a new curriculum? Did they jump up two grade levels after switching? These are nice indicators to help you feel some validity in your own decisions. One year, my daughter came back with less than average scores in reference materials. That was a “Duh!” moment! I quickly realized we were relying too much on Internet resources and she didn’t know how to use an encyclopedia. Alhamdulilah, our public library offered a reference material class for free the following year, so I made sure to sign her up.
Another use for standardized testing is to gain admittance into gifted or honors programs. Getting my daughter into an honors science class at the local school required more than her mom just telling the principal how great she is. They want an unbiased source to make their decision.
For students struggling in certain areas, you can use the tests as a benchmark for progress. Even if a 5th grader is testing at a 3rd grade level, you know that’s progress since you may have tested the year before and your child tested at a 1st grade level. Alhamdulilah, that’s two years progress, and that’s something to celebrate, even if it’s still below grade level for their age.
Do you do standardized testing in your homeschool? What role does it play?