The following is a post by contributing writer Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home.
To test or not to test? It is one of the most common questions I hear in homeschooling discussions. Every state has different requirements for testing.
In our state (Tennessee), one must register in one of three ways in order to be compliant with the law. In extremely simple terms:
* you can register with your school system as an independent homeschooler. With this option, you must have your child tested at the school in grades 5, 7, and 9.
* you can register with an umbrella or Church Related School (CRS) and follow their requirements (Some require testing every year.)
* or you can “attend” a CRS and educate your child at home, which is a satellite campus. (Testing is usually not required.)
We chose the Option 3 category so that we did not have to participate in standardized testing. I know the arguments for testing among homeschoolers and I think they are valid—for families who choose to test.
Some of the arguments for testing include:
- Achievement tests will give you an overall picture of how your kids are doing
- Tests will help the parent to see their strengths and weaknesses.
- Tests can help you to track their progress over the years.
- Tests can also provide practice and confidence for other tests, like college entrance exams and placement tests.
- Test scores can be shown “as evidence” to grandparents or other family members who question homeschooling.
- Tests can provide accountability so that kids don’t fall through the cracks
Some of the arguments against standardized testing are:
- The primary purpose of many tests is to rank students, teachers, and schools. Some will be labeled as successes and others as failures, and the vast majority will be labeled mediocre. The child learns that the purpose of learning is to get a high score.
- Testing is based on the public/private school’s idea of what a child should know, and when he should know it. Standardized tests tend to narrow the curriculum to what will be tested. Obviously, this is a problem for those of us who don’t follow their state’s scope and sequence.
- Standardized tests tend to focus attention on what students don’t know and can’t do, in situations unlike daily life. Poor test scores can decrease the confidence of both the parent/teacher and the child.
- Testing is superficial in that it doesn’t really test the things (qualities) of highest value in a child. The child learns that thinking is not valued; getting the “right” answer is the only goal.
- In order to properly prepare for tests, parents, like typical classroom teachers, might spend inordinate amounts of time teaching-to-the-test. In my opinion, this is a terrible waste of time before high school. Unless, of course, your kids enjoy taking tests and practicing for tests. I have a daughter who wanted a test prep workbook because she thought it would be fun.
Speaking of fun, I’ve heard lots of parents say that their kids think it is a holiday when they get to do their testing at a local umbrella school. Conversely, I know of kids in public schools who have ulcers—actually ulcers that require medication—partly because the emphasis on testing is so stressful.
And that is a great thing about having the freedom to choose to test or not to test. How many of us really believe that a child’s intelligence, achievement, and competence can be represented adequately by standardized tests? Most homeschoolers who have their children tested find the tests to be merely a source of academic feedback or a simple way to notify the state that the children are being educated according to their standards. Most homeschoolers who choose not to use test view standardized testing as unnecessary.
On a personal level, the ACT is the first standardized test for our kids. Our oldest (who is finishing his sophomore year in college) took it at age 15 for the first time and scored high enough to get decent scholarships even at that age. (He did take it again the next year in order to bump his score up into the next scholarship level.)
I’m glad we had all those years of sitting on the couch reading and making dioramas instead of learning how to fill in bubbles (yes, he actually did this regularly when he was in public school for first grade). And I haven’t regretted for a second following in that path with my younger kids.
So we’ve opted out of standardized testing before high school, but that is our choice. As in all aspects of homeschooling, there is not one right answer for every family.
So what about you? Do your kids do some kind of standardized testing? Why or why not?
Sarah Small writes about homeschooling, writing, parenting, and life in general at SmallWorld at Home. She is in her 12th year of homeschooling, currently with a 9th grader and a 5th grader. Her older son, who was homeschooled all the way through high school, is a sophomore in college. The Smalls live near the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Photo by Renato Ganoza.