Four and a half million children repeat at least one grade level before graduating high school.
That’s one out of every ten children!
Is your child ready to graduate to the next grade level? Are you sure?
Standardized tests can help you decide… plus, many states require them.
What exactly is a standardized test?
Standardized tests evaluate your children’s knowledge.
The test asks all students in a particular grade the same questions. Rather than testing your child against a “perfect” score, standardized tests compare your child to other children his age.
There are two types of standardized tests:
- Achievement tests measure subject-specific knowledge
- Aptitude tests measure school-success skills, such as reasoning and problem solving
Some tests have multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble answers. Others leave room for short answers.
In many states, these end-of-the-year tests help determine your child’s future.
Start preparing early, and you and your children will get through the test with minimal stress and frustration.
Know your state’s requirements
Your state may not require standardized testing.
Every state has its own rules and regulations.
Some states – like Washington – allow homeschool students to take their tests at the local public school.
Others – like Pennsylvania – require various approvals and qualifications for homeschoolers, in addition to standardized testing.
Check the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website (https://www.hslda.org/laws/) for your state’s rules.
Don’t teach to the test
Standardized tests serve as a good barometer. But teaching children primarily to ensure that they perform well on one test obliterates real learning.
Don’t fall prey to measuring your child’s success by your state’s standards.
Reading, discussing, and playing teaches children much more effectively than completing worksheets and multiple-choice tests.
When you teach your children how to learn, rather than how to test, they will succeed in college and in their careers. You want your children to learn personal responsibility and time management. You want reading, writing, and analyzing to become second nature to them.
Once they master these skills, testing will come naturally.
Still, you may feel daunted by the extra burden of standardized tests. Here are a few steps to help you fulfill your state’s requirements with minimal stress, confusion, and anxiety.
Before the test
When your school year starts, research your state’s requirements.
Some states require testing every year. Some only require it after third grade, sixth grade, and ninth grade. Find out what your state’s requirements are. Also, find out if your state requires a specific test.
If you can choose your testing method, decide whether to use standardized testing or professional assessment.
- If your child is still learning to read or has difficulty focusing for more than 30 minutes, choose a professional assessment. Assessments also give you more personalized feedback for homeschooling.
- If you want statistical, objective information about how your children perform compared to public- and private-schooled children, choose a standardized test.
Once you’ve chosen the type of test, find out the format of the test. Will the test ask multiple-choice questions or short answer questions, or will it ask for responses to essay prompts?
How is the test scored? Some tests penalize children for wrong answers, which means it’s sometimes better not to guess. Others don’t have penalties, which means it’s better to answer every question – even if your child has to guess.
Finally, find out how the test scores will impact your homeschool.
Throughout the year, encourage your children to read as much as possible.
The Bible, magazines, newspapers, novels, and comic books will help improve your children’s vocabulary and reading comprehension. These skills will make testing easier and improve their scores.
Practice word problems occasionally. Applying school lessons to real-life situations will help your children retain and apply information during exams.
Encourage your children to discuss their ideas and voice their opinions. This will stimulate and develop their critical thinking.
Several months before testing, start practicing.
If your children are testing for the first time or become anxious during testing, consider scheduling short practice sessions between lessons.
Public schools and libraries often have practice tests and workbooks you can use. When you practice, focus on your children’s “trouble” subjects. Practice tests will help you and your children become familiar with the test’s style, format, and instructions.
Practice with timers. Timed tests can cause a lot of anxiety. Your children may freeze under pressure and forget answers they would normally know.
Start by seeing how many addition and subtraction problems your child can answer correctly in five minutes. Then move onto more challenging problems, like multiplication and division. Next, set the timer for an hour during a school assignment. This will help them learn to manage longer periods of time.
Several weeks before testing, order your tests.
Order your tests from a distributor, such as BJU Press (www.bjupress.com/testing) or the Family Learning Organization (https://www.familylearning.org/testing.php). The HSLDA lists other distributors at www.hslda.org/highschool/testing.
Once you receive your tests, schedule them so that your child doesn’t have to take more than 2 or 3 subject tests per day.
As testing approaches, help your children remain calm by remaining calm yourself. Your children will react to your emotions. If you are calm and confident, they will be, too.
If your children start to get nervous, explain that standardized testing really tests the teacher – you – more than it tests them. It tests what you have taught them that year. If they don’t know something, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault.
I vividly remember the year I discovered a huge gap in my teaching. Because I was a “naturally good speller” as a kid, I apparently thought everyone was also. So I paid little heed to teaching it to my own kids. That is, until one of my children really bombed the spelling portion of his fifth grade standardized test.
I was dumbfounded! It had never occurred to me that certain subjects aren’t equally easy for everyone. And it definitely uncovered a big gap in my teaching. Which was very fortunate, because it gave me opportunity to remedy the situation.
Also explain that standardized tests purposefully include questions that are too easy and too hard for them. They won’t know some questions, and that’s okay… that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
The day before testing, set out your supplies.
Set out sharpened pencils, erasers, scratch paper, and a calculator (with new batteries).
Don’t study (or “cram”) the night before.
Make sure you and your children get a good night’s sleep.
On test day
Eat a hearty breakfast, including a healthy protein like eggs.
If possible, test in the same room where you normally do school work. Familiar surroundings will help your children relax and recall information more quickly.
Once the test starts, eliminate all distractions.
Keep your schedule clear – no doctor’s appointments or errands. If you want to play music, keep it soft and instrumental. Put your phone on silent or vibrate. Avoid phone conversations.
If testing lasts for several days, keep your evenings free and relaxed for the duration.
After the test
Flip through each test booklet. Check for any stray marks or incomplete dots.
Collect every item, or your results will not be processed.
Then send the tests back to the company for grading! (Use FedEx or UPS so you can track the package.)
Interpreting the results
Standardized test scores are measured against each other, rather than against a perfect score.
Grading reports usually include four scores:
- Raw Score: the number correct out of the number possible
- Percentile Ranking: your child’s rank compared to “normal” students his age (50% is average)
- Stanine Score: your child’s score compared to “normal” students his age, scored from 1 to 9 (4, 5, and 6 are average)
- Grade Equivalency: your child’s score translated into grade level. If your child scores 5.3 Grade Equivalency for reading comprehension, this means his score compares to the average student in the third month of fifth grade.
If your child is not a good test taker, his scores may differ drastically from the grades he gets in school. That’s okay. While standardized tests are a benchmark, they are not the end-all be-all. You already have a good understanding of their abilities by teaching them each and every day.
It’s important that your children do their best, but a test score can never determine their intelligence, value, and worth.
And whatever you do, don’t ditch homeschooling just because your child did poorly on one test! No other school would make such a drastic change based solely on the outcome of one assignment. Praise your child for his strong areas, and work on the weaknesses during the following year.