If you live in a state that requires standardized testing, you may find it annoying or even pointless. After all, many parents choose homeschooling in order to take their children off the conveyor belt and allow them to learn at their own unique pace.
Despite the homeschool community’s typical resistance to requirements like standardized testing, I’m one of the rare homeschool parents who actually appreciates our state’s requirement. That might surprise you, especially given the fact that I am required to test every single year, when other states only test every three years.
Thankfully, my state does not require certain scores to continue homeschooling. In my state, homeschool families are only required to administer the test and keep the results on record. I’m sure I would have a slightly different perspective if my ability to continue homeschooling hinged on my child achieving a certain test result.
Here are my three main reasons to appreciate standardized tests.
1. Standardized Tests Familiarize My Children with Test-taking
I am a pretty relaxed homeschooler who never administers tests. (All of my kids are still in elementary school.) However, just because I don’t use tests doesn’t mean I ignore the fact that the rest of the world does.
The rest of the world believes in and revolves around testing, and part of our job as homeschool parents is to prepare our kids to be a part of that world one day.
Test-taking is a skill, one that needs to be learned. If my kids ever want to go to college, and I imagine that at least a few of them will, they will need to take the SAT. Then there is college itself, which is full of tests.
I like that they are required to test annually because it is becoming a regular part of my children’s experience with school. Annual testing means I am available to talk them through the test-taking process, from how to read directions to how to alleviate test anxiety.
After twelve years of annual testing, they will hopefully learn to approach tests for what they are—one way for teachers to get an idea of what you know and don’t know.
Test results don’t define you, and they don’t make or break you.
2. Standardized Tests Teach the Reasoning of Multiple-choice Tests
When I took both the SAT for college and the GRE for graduate school, I spent half my time learning the material and the other half learning the logic of multiple choice testing. I learned how to make an educated guess if I didn’t know the correct answer. Since the testing world relies on multiple choice questions, we need to teach our children this essential skill. Why wait until high school? Standardized tests allow you to start developing that skill at a young age.
3. Standardized Tests Give Me Feedback
Because my approach to homeschooling looks very different than traditional school and I have only experienced traditional school myself, standardized test results reassure me. They give me confidence that I’m not ruining my kids by choosing homeschooling. Every time I get my daughter’s scores back and they are well above average in most areas, I breathe a little easier.
Standardized Test-Taking for Homeschoolers: 5 Tips for the Best Experience
1. Observe Your Child During the Test
Watching your child take the test will give you a lot of insight, sometimes more than the actual results. You will discover:
how she responds during test-taking
what areas she struggles with
how she responds when she doesn’t know the answer
how confident she is when she chooses the wrong answers
These observations will help you look at the test results more objectively. Do the results accurately reflect what your child knows? Are the results skewed by test anxiety? Only your observations can help you answer these important questions; the numbers won’t.
If you live in a state that uses test scores to determine your eligibility to continue homeschooling, these observations will be even more important. If your child’s test scores are low, many states allow you to develop a plan for improvement. These observations will help you know whether you need to teach actual content or to focus on test-taking skills.
2. Keep a No-pressure Approach to the Test
How your child approaches standardized tests will depend on a few things:
your child’s personality
how you approach the test
how well your child is prepared
Because most homeschoolers do not teach to a standardized test, the last point will largely depend on your child’s learning style and pace, as well as your homeschool style. There will be things he doesn’t know and isn’t expected to know.
How your child responds to not knowing the answers will either make your job harder or easier.
If you have a child who could care less about knowing the right answers and happily works his way through the test without a care in the world, emphasizing a no-pressure approach won’t be difficult. However, if your child loves knowing the right answer and hates deciding between four multiple choice answers that all look equally correct (that would be my child), you are going to have your work cut out for you.
That’s why it’s extremely important to stay close by during the test, to monitor your child’s anxiety level and to determine what type of test-taker he is. When they look at you with uncertainty and start to hyperventilate because they don’t know the answer, it’s your job to remind them that the test results are not the end of the world.
The test simply tells teachers what you do or do not know. That’s it.
3. Keep Calm When You Get the Results
I was especially attentive as my daughter completed the language mechanics portion of the test because I am intentionally waiting to teach grammar until the fourth or fifth grade. She reads voraciously on her own, I read aloud to her every day, and she writes constantly.
When she took her first standardized test, I panicked slightly when I saw that her language mechanics scores were dramatically lower than the rest of her scores. (Surely I, educated in a traditional school setting, knew all these things when I was her age?!) She still received an above average result, but my first temptation was to completely go back on my original decision and start grammar right away.
Thankfully, I took a few days to process the test scores.
I went back to the sources that supported my original decision to delay formal grammar lessons. I remembered why I chose a more natural approach to grammar, letting her absorb it naturally through daily reading and writing daily. I stuck with my original plans and did not start grammar instruction.
This year’s test scores and careful observation during the test confirmed that she is, in fact, making progress in language mechanics. She mastered at least one additional grammar skill that she definitely did not have down the year before (capitalization rules).
Bottom line: don’t make rash decisions to change your homeschool plans based on standardized test results. Sit with them for a week or two, remember why you chose your original path, and make an informed decision from there.
4. Be Careful About Sharing Test Results with Your Child
Unfortunately I am not doing a great job in this area and will need to adjust how I communicate test results going forward. Because I have one of those anxious children who loves to get everything right and cares too much about her performance, I made the common mistake of making a big deal out of her high scores.
In retrospect, I should have simply explained that the test measures her scores against the scores of other children in her same grade and then given her the scores in a casual, off-hand manner. Overemphasizing high test scores can lead children to put more weight in the results than is reasonable or healthy.
5. Choose Your Standardized Test Wisely
Depending on your state requirements, you may or may not have the freedom to choose your standardized test. But if you do have a choice, make sure to ask local homeschool parents what test they use and why. Research each of the tests online before you make a decision.
I chose to use the California Achievement Test (CAT)–the online and untimed version. The CAT is relatively inexpensive and covers reading, language, spelling, and math.
Final Thoughts on Standardized Testing
If you do live in a state where standardized test results can make or break your choice to homeschool, you have my deepest sympathies. I cannot imagine the stress of that!
Would I choose to administer standardized tests if I weren't required to? I might, though perhaps not as frequently, because I believe the benefits of learning how to take a standardized test are far more valuable than the test itself. My biggest issue is the cost, which will become a bigger pain when all five of my kids are taking them. I’m sure there are free versions that would achieve the same results.
Standardized tests are not the only way to teach test-taking skills, but as I stated earlier, tests are still a big part of education. No matter how you choose to accomplish it, let’s make sure we sufficiently prepare our kids for the challenge.
About the Author
June loves deep discussions about homeschooling, parenting, and minimalism. When she’s not homeschooling, decluttering, or blogging at This Simple Balance, she loves to enjoy perfect silence while sipping a hot cup of coffee and thinking uninterrupted thoughts—which, of course, with four kids ages eight and under doesn’t happen very often!