How to Navigate Standardized Testing for Homeschoolers
No matter where you homeschool or what your state regulations are, at some point, you’ll want to assess how your students are doing. Where do you begin? How do you know when it’s time? What is the best environment? Who can give the test? What tests are available to homeschoolers? Today’s post is all about How to Navigate Standardized Testing for Homeschoolers.
When Should I Start Testing My Student?
As with other aspects of assessment in your homeschool, when you begin testing and how often you test will depend on varying factors. For example,
- Homeschool Laws– I’d say this is the biggest single factor when it comes to testing. When are you required to test your students? In NY State, homeschoolers are required to test every other year beginning with 4th grade and then annually once a student begins high school. Many families choose to make their “other” year 4th grade and begin testing in 5th.
- Learning Concerns– Do you suspect your child has a learning issue? A simple assessment can give you information. It may not give you the whole story, but it can confirm some things and help you to know whether or not it is time to intervene.
- Personal Preference– For many homeschoolers, regardless of requirements, prefer to use a standardized test as their annual year end assessment. I fall into the “later is better” category. While the test can give you a lot of information about your student, if your student is young, you can observe their performance and as long as you are engaged with your child, you’ll know how they are doing.
Choosing the Best Testing Environment
There are a few schools of thought here. Some parents think it’s wise to have their students take tests in a way that will help them to prepare for future classroom situations, including other standardized tests like college entrance exams. Others prefer to shelter their children from this experience for as long as they can!
Here are a few factors to consider when choosing your testing environment:
- How easily is your student distracted? If she is easily thrown by other kids or even small noises, you might consider testing alone or with a small group of people.
- What is your child’s anxiety level with school? If you have a child who gets upset easily at completing tasks, you want to pick the surroundings which will diminish anxiety triggers- or, at the least, not add to them!
- Can you administer the test? It depends on the test you choose as to whether a parent qualifies to be a proctor. The only test with extra criteria is the Iowa Test. You must have at least a bachelor’s degree to be a test proctor. Giving the test yourself means testing in your own home which can make a huge difference to a test taker.
- How old is your student? The older your students are, the more they may benefit from being in a group testing situation. The younger they are, the more they might be comfortable at home.
Standardized Test Options for Homeschoolers
Each of these tests has strengths and weaknesses based on how they are given and what they test. All of these are norm-referenced tests meaning they are testing the basic skills that any student at a particular grade should know. They are not based on any particular curriculum (criterion referenced tests).
The test scores will give you information about your child which can be useful. In particular, the Iowas have a very detailed score sheet which breaks your student’s results down to each section and even the number attempted vs the number correct. This way you can tell if they just got something wrong or they didn’t finish the problem. Choose the test based on what is best for your student given the information below.
Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS)–
- Available for K-12
- Must be careful to order the right level for the grade your child is in- BJU Testing has a nice site for explaining it all
- Latest version not available in NY state- because it is embargoed. They will replace it with an alternate version.
- Timed test
- Must be a registered tester to administer this test- In order to register, you need to have a bachelor’s degree or a teaching certificate.
- Testers can register on the BJU site so you can find one near you to give the test to your student.
California Achievement Test (CAT)–
- Parents can administer the test
- Available for grades 2-12
- Timed test
- Online version
- Note that the CAT offered to homeschoolers is a 1970 version- the distributor says it makes that choice because the quality of the assessment declined significantly after that year. They believe the 1970 version is the most robust.
Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS)–
- Designed for parents to give at home
- There are many levels of a test per grade- not just one grade level test
- Available for grades 3-8
- Offers homeschool percentiles in addition to national percentile scores
Standardized Testing for Homeschooled High Schoolers
It should be noted that once your homeschooled student reaches high school, other options become available.
- PSAT– Given to 11th graders to determine National Merit Scholarships and to give your student an experience before the SAT.
- SAT– Taken at the end of 11th grade and beginning of 12th as a requirement for college entrance applications.
- ACT– Another option/requirement for college exams taken in a student’s junior and senior year
Any of these exams can take the place of other standardized tests once they begin taking them. I’ll save suggestions for test prep on these and working practice into your high schooler’s day for another post.
How to Prepare a Homeschooled Student for Standardized Tests
Being ready and knowing what to expect from a testing day goes a long way to relieving any stress your student may have about test day. Here are a few ideas:
- Make sure your student knows basic information about himself– so he can fill out the demographic information on the answer sheet.
- Practice doing timed math.
- Try timed reading activities.
- If your student is in algebra, make sure they brush up on arithmetic in the month or so leading up to the test date.
- Explain about the bubbles and keeping the answer sheet straight with the row you are on!
- Go over math strategies– like skipping problems in timed computation that they know will take them too long.
In the end, you need to know your student and which standardized test will suit him best and which environment will help him to perform to his potential. Many times as homeschoolers, we fall into the trap of thinking we have to test our kids one way because “it is the right thing” or because “we need to prepare them for the future” or because “that’s the way we think of tests”.
Standardized Testing follows certain conventions like being timed and filling bubbles, but there are other aspects that do not need to look the same. Choose the method and test that fits your student. Keep it low key and encourage your kids to show off what they know.
You’ll learn a lot about your student in the process which will help you to further tailor their schooling to their needs.
Take a deep breath. You can do it!
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Here in Idaho, we are not required to test. However starting in 6th grade we have our kids take the IBTS(Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) and later the ITED(Iowa Tests of Educational Development) through the Idaho Coalition of Homeschoolers. We see the benefits of such. All 4(6th,8th,8th,12th) will be taking them this year.
Thanks for sharing your experience Sarah. It’s interesting to see which states require testing and which ones do not!
Yes, we are very lucky. We have very few requirements here, no mandated testing, no reporting, no submission of curricula. Having homeschooled my oldest in NY for Kindergarten before we moved to be close to my husband’s family, I greatly appreciate it.
Oh yes! NY is loads of reporting fun!
Here in Minnesota, testing is required every year after the child turns 7, which is the same year you have to register them. For the past two years we have used the Peabody Individual Achievement Test which is oral, non bracketed, untimed test in 5 areas(General Information, Reading Recognition, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics and Spelling).
Thanks Shelia! It’s always interesting to hear about other state’s requirements.
In Montana we don’t have any testing requirements. All we are required to do is register each year. For our own purposes, we’ve tried out the 1970s CAT and our oldest took the SAT this year and was excepted into the college of his choice with that.
Thanks for commenting- congratulations to your oldest. That’s very encouraging!
Here in WA we are required to test annually starting in 3rd grade. I may have my daughter start in 2nd grade just to be positive she’s on track. We started early (she won’t be 5 until May, but seemed ready so we did kindergarten this year). So far she seems to be doing fine with it, but I want to be sure that she truly is “getting it” before the workload gets to be to much.
How do you find out if your state requires annual test?
You can check state requirements at hslda.org and if you have a state where you need to report at all, you should be able to get the information you need from anyone you report to.
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