I wanted to share a little about our homeschool standardized testing experience this year. While some homeschoolers ideologically oppose standardized testing, many homeschoolers are in the same boat as public school teachers. We may not feel standardized tests are the best way to assess the learning we are doing but we have to satisfy them nonetheless.
Every state has its own laws about how to monitor the educational progress of homeschoolers. In Virginia, homeschoolers generally have to submit evidence each year of educational progress, either via a standardized test score or personal evaluation by a credentialed educational professional. All of this is at the parents’ expense.
Reasons for Standardized Testing
We have always chosen the standardized testing route. We have three motivations for doing so. First, my husband and I have both had to take numerous standardized exams both for school and for our careers so we feel that teaching our children how to take standardized exams is very important. Second, we like to keep our children generally in line with grade-level standards so that should we ever need to put them in public school (or if they ask to go) there would be the option to do so. Finally, the test is far cheaper than an evaluation and costs a mere $25.
Last year was our first year of homeschool testing and I wrote about our experience here.
The test we take is generally the California Achievement Test from about 25 years ago. These vintage exams seem to be the only tests released to private homeschool testing services. It is a little challenging preparing to take an exam from 25 years ago because the test preparation materials we use today are quite different.
My daughter did very well on her testing this year. Last year, our big concern on the testing was math. My daughter did fine overall and exceeded the minimum progress requirements but we vowed that next year we would do better to prepare her for the math computation part of the exam. We exceeded that goal. Singapore Math was excellent preparation and we made sure to work every single problem in the practice tests of our test preparation workbook.
Interestingly, math standards for children seem to have gone up in the past 25 years. 25 years ago the hardest skill tested in the second grade was carrying and borrowing ones and tens. My daughter was ready for story problems testing addition, subtraction and simple multiplication and division (which seems to be the norm for 2013’s exam based on the test preparation workbook) so the math from 25 years ago was a piece of cake.
Yet not all was easy with the test from 25 years ago. The most difficult section of the exam for my daughter was reading comprehension. There was one question in particular that I thought was quite challenging for the second grade, asking students for the meaning of a little-used word that most people would only use now in an historical context. There were also quite a few questions that called for sophisticated inferences about how characters felt or the subtext. The 2013 test preparation book did not ask any questions that were quite this difficult.
It was curious to see that we might have lowered our English standards over the past quarter century while raising our standards for math. Perhaps this reflects the increasing diversity in our country and the increased pace of technological innovation.
I also learned this year that I have to be very careful not to create test anxiety for my children. When my daughter didn’t want to do the test preparation workbook (because it is quite uninteresting), I would invoke a vague threat like, “This test is very important. If you don’t do well, you won’t be able to continue to have school at home.” Little did I know that this was putting way too much pressure on her and would lead to “I can’t do it!” types of meltdowns. I had to learn to back off and simply say, “Try as hard as you can and do the best you can. You can do this! Come, on! It’s easy!”
So, we both continue to learn about the standardized testing process.
Game Plan for 2014
My focus this year is to better prepare my daughter for the reading comprehension portion of the exam. This is not so easy. I read recently that reading comprehension exams are not really testing how well you read but are testing your base of general knowledge. The more you know the better your reading comprehension.
A lot of the questions my daughter ends up missing have to do with life experience. Empathy, for example, is a difficult concept for children. Questions that ask children to imagine how a story character feels, particularly if that character is not a human, are challenging. Clues in a text that are obvious to adults are not so obvious to children. My daughter tends to want to focus in on one or two points in the story that interest her. The other words are just background noise.
To improve our reading comprehension practice, I switched our daily language arts practice book from the grammar-oriented Daily Language Review to the Common Core Language Arts 4 Today book. The Common Core book has a better mix of different types of questions. Some are grammar and some reading comp. and the reading comp. questions seem of a similar rigor to last year’s test. We will see this year if this makes any difference. I have also been encouraged by my daughter’s growing interest in recreational reading.
This year I am not so worried about math because we are continuing the same method of study we used last year, staying current with Singapore Math and doing a Common Core daily math practice workbook.
What is your experience with or opinion on standardized testing? Please share in the comments.