Why I Subject My Homeschooled Kids to Standardized Testing
Why I Started Testing
After enduring constant nagging, er, encouragement from my mom, I finally relented and agreed to subject my kids to standardized testing. Mom is a career educator and believes in testing so it was important enough for her to bring it up at least once a month. I decided that I would go ahead and test the kids and simply use the results to benchmark where the kids are compared to other kids their age.
My primary reason for not testing them at this point is because I am not following the school’s curriculum. We’re doing our own academic program. For example, we follow the Singapore Math progression but we use numerous media to accomplish Singapore’s goals. We use iPad apps, Miquon Math, Montessori materials, Dreambox Learning and plain old marker on the white board. We don’t open the text book and workbook every day. In fact, it can sometimes be weeks between workbook sessions. We are like that with all our subjects.
But moms can be persistent and convincing. So last week I administered the TerraNova 5 that I received from Seton Testing. Despite my bad attitude toward standardized tests, I can say that I am so glad that I listened to Mom!
I learned about Seton Testing from another homeschooling mom. They offer several tests but I settled on the Terranova because it’s supposed to be a little more difficult than the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and because I wanted an achievement test rather than a criterion referenced test.
I ordered the test for Kindergarten and 1st grade. I also ordered practice tests. The practice tests were useful for my kids because they had never taken a test before. They were not helpful in any way other than to teach the kids how to bubble in their answers and to listen to and follow directions during the test. Once you’ve done it you don’t need it any more.
A few days before the test, I opened the proctor’s guide and read through the questions to make sure I would pronounce everything correctly. I also wanted to understand how the test would flow just in case the kids had any questions.
I planned to administer My son’s “end of 1st grade” test over two days. I chose to administer the Terranova Plus so the subjects covered were Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Vocabulary, Word Analysis and Math Computation. I intended to do Language Arts and Mathematics on the first day and the remaining sections on the second day.
We started my son on Language Arts. During the test, I discovered that he is not as strong a reader as I thought. You see, instead of reading through the answers to several questions, he would simply bubble in answer A. He missed several questions that I knew he could do simply because he couldn’t be bothered to read the answers.
The timed reading passages also proved to be challenging for my son. He was able to make it through the first two, but passages 3 and 4 were very difficult for him. He didn’t make it through either of those and therefore had to leave two pages of questions blank. His self-confidence took a serious hit at that point. Luckily, the reading passages were toward the end of the language arts section.
Language arts really battered my son so I decided not to attack the Mathematics section on the same day. Instead, we did Social Studies and Science next. These sections were much easier for him because he didn’t have to read anything. With his confidence restored, we completed Word Analysis and ended for the day. It took us 3.5 hours to cover those subjects.
On the second day, we tackled Vocabulary first. Since this section did require reading, some of it timed, I assured my son that if he could make it through, he wouldn’t have to do any more reading for the day. In this section, he fell back into filling in answer A and not reading the answers. I expected him to get all the vocabulary correct because it was pretty basic. Suffice it to say, he didn’t even come close to my expectations.
After getting vocabulary behind us, we moved on to Math Computation, where he performed to expectations, and then the Mathematics Section. He feels confident in Math so we didn’t have too many issues with these sections.
My daughter turned 5 the week before I administered the “end of kindergarten” TerraNova 5 test to her. After the headache that was testing with my son, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I planned to administer her test over two days, just as I had done with my son. Turns out, she wanted to get through it all in the same day. And we did. It is amazing how your kids can be so different!
The kindergarten test consisted of three sections: Reading, Language Arts, and Mathematics.
My daughter is very competitive and wants to do the same work her brother does. So she is easy to teach and eager to learn. She is also a great fan of workbooks. As a result, the format of the test was much easier for her to grasp and she blew right through the test. In fact, we completed the test in a little over half the time than the publishers recommended. And she was disappointed when it was over.
There were no timed portions in the Kindergarten test so I don’t know how she would have done under the pressure of timing.
The day testing was completed, I packaged all the materials and mailed them back to Seton Testing. The scores were back exactly one week after Seton received the tests.
After my son’s less than stellar performance during testing, I was unsure about his scores. At the time of testing, he was considered 1st grade, 5 months. Overall he scored 2nd grade, 5 months. But his individual scores were all over the board. From a low of 1st grade, 3 months to 5th grade, 4 months. His percentages ranged from 28% to 99%. If I wasn’t the person teaching him, I would have no idea about what to do with those scores.
At testing time, my daughter would have been in her 5th month of pre-kindergarten if she was enrolled in school. Overall, she scored 1st grade, 5 months. Her scores ranged from a low of 1st grade, 1 month to 2nd grade, 1 month.
My Thoughts After Testing
While I was hesitant to test, I can say that I am happy that I did. There is all kinds of research that will tell you that testing young kids is useless. In a large classroom setting, I can definitely see why that is true. Being an active boy, my son simply was not ready to sit down and focus in a standardized testing situation.
I had to interrupt his daydreams numerous times and remind him to stay on task. On questions where I read the question and he simply had to choose an answer, he did very well. When he had to read the question himself and then read all the answers, he would get bored, distracted, whatever, and resort to simply choosing an answer.
The timed reading passages were a disaster. There were 4 passages and they got progressively more difficult. He barely made it through the first two passages and their questions within the allotted time. He didn’t make it through the last two passages in time to fill in any of the questions. After that, he was mentally checked out from the test. Astoundingly, he scored right at grade level for reading so that tells me that the two passages he didn’t complete were above grade level. He could have completed the sections but it would have taken him twice the allotted time.
I also found that, while he is very good at math, he sometimes found the instructions confusing. Other times, he simply had no clue what was being asked of him. Since the exam was scripted, I could not explain it to him in words he would understand so I just encouraged him to make his best guess. To his credit, there were occasions where the questions were poorly worded or where there could be more than one interpretation of what the task was.
Conversely, my daughter did not suffer the same difficulties. She had no problem staying on task. She did not have any problem understanding the questions and had no problem figuring out what to do on awkwardly worded questions. Of course, she is also my workbook child. She loves workbooks and worksheets and would do them all day if she could.
Schooled kids are taught how to complete worksheets and workbooks from an early age. I think schooled kids have an advantage on a standardized test when compared to a homeschooled kid whose curriculum has been decidedly anti-worksheet/workbook.
It is also obvious that not all young kids will perform well on a standardized test due to their level of maturity. Everyone who knows us well would agree that my son (who was not deemed mature enough to begin kindergarten on time) would likely significantly outscore my daughter on an IQ test, but it was my daughter who dominated the standardizes test. Luckily, I am intimately familiar with what my son knows and I know what to do to help him perform better on his next test.
How I Plan Help My Son
1. More Workbook Assignments – Before the test, I would read the content before the lesson and then I would present it using manipulatives, the white board, iPad apps, etc. Now, I present the lesson and actually let him work out the pages in the workbook.
2. Working More Independently – Instead of sitting beside him, I have my son work at his desk by himself. This is, of course, after we have discussed the lesson and I am sure he understands the content. His ability to work alone without constant prodding from me has noticeably improved over the past couple of months.
3. Reading His Own Instructions – Instead of reading the instructions, I have my son read all his own instructions. We even take turns reading portions of the lesson. I have found that he often does not understand what he’s being asked to do. Or he reads too much into the instructions. So we are working on keeping focused on exactly what the instructions are asking, and not trying to make things more complicated than they are.
4. Reading Fluency – My son could have completed all the reading passages on the test because he reads higher level books. But he is a slow reader, no matter what the reading level. He is a reluctant reader, no matter the topic of the book. I now make more of an effort to find books on a range of levels (from 1st to 3rd grade) that I think he might like. So some books are easy, some are on level and some require a little stretch. I talk to librarians about what boys are interested in reading. I make, er, encourage him to choose at least a couple of books when we go to the library and I require him to spend time reading them on his own. I realize he is just looking at the pictures during those times but that’s OK.
To be sure, we haven’t thrown out our rich discussions and I have by no means turned my boy into the workbook king. But the standardized testing has shown me that there are some skills that schooled kids will inherently have because they are schooled. Test taking skills are not something that come automatically to homeschooled kids so I think the regular practice will help my son on the next test.
Because I can use standardized testing to fit my own needs, I can say that I found the experience tremendously valuable and eye opening. We will test every year because I want the kids to have practice doing it. Testing is a good accountability measure for me as well and it lets my husband know that I am doing my job when it comes to educating the kids. On the other hand, I think the test would have been a disaster for my son if he had taken it in a large public school class. Because of his level of (im)maturity and inability to focus, I’m sure his scores would have been awful and the school would be calling for some kind of intervention, meds, whatever.
2017 UPDATE: 4 years later, I have tested the kids every year even though I am not required o do so. I have switched to the Stanford Achievement test because there are no timed portions. When we test, I announce it the day before, we take two days to complete and then we don’t discuss it any more. I’ll go over the results when I receive them and that’s that. No pressure, just 2 days out of a year’s worth of school. Both kids continue to perform as they started – my son gets bored after a while and reverts to just bubbling in an answer to get it over with and my daughter blows the tests away with 90th percentile in every subject.
That said, the boy is getting better. So maybe by the time he has to take his college entrance exams, he’ll be able to stick with it long enough to score well. I’m not sure what would have happened if I had not begun teaching him test taking skills at a young age.