Mom-to-Mom Support/Tests in a Homeschool Setting

Tests in a Homeschool Setting

Homeschool student taking a math test

“How do I give tests in the homeschool?” This is a question often asked by new homeschoolers. The truth is, many homeschoolers do not give tests at all, at least not in the elementary grades. This may sound crazy if you are used to the traditional school model in which testing is central to education, but there are good reasons why regular testing is unnecessary for homeschoolers. First, we need to ask ourselves the following question: “What is the purpose of tests in the classroom?”

Why do classroom teachers use tests?

Testing is a tool that allows the teacher to determine what the student knows, and it allows the state to keep track of how students are doing. In a classroom setting, teachers have difficulty tracking individual daily progress because of the sheer volume of work produced by 30 or more students. Testing, therefore, is necessary to shed more light on individual performance.

In a homeschool setting, testing doesn’t generally reveal any more information on student progress than the parent-teacher already knows; the parent is intimately and immediately aware, on a daily basis, of the child’s understanding of the material. Therefore, if your state does not mandate standardized testing, it is probably an unnecessary expense. You can learn about your state’s regulations at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.

The drawbacks of testing

Besides being unnecessary in a homeschool setting, testing in the elementary grades is frequently inaccurate and can even have negative effects.

Lack of accuracy

In the elementary grades, test results are frequently influenced by outside factors that undermine the accuracy of the test. Many young students are so distracted by the excitement of testing day that the test does not accurately represent what the student knows. Some other factors that can influence test results are fear, lack of sleep, an upset tummy, or hurrying through so they can play outside.

Learning differences

More seriously, testing forces children into a painful “if-you-are-in-this-grade-you-must-know-this” approach instead of allowing them to advance at their own pace. The reality is that most young children don’t exhibit “learning readiness” in all areas simultaneously. For example, some children display early language skills but are bewildered by mathematical abstracts or can barely grasp a pencil. Each child has different strengths and learning speeds. What is most important is whether the child is advancing beyond where he was six or twelve months ago, not how he compares to where the test-makers think the “average” child of his age should be. 

Adds frustration and stress

Forcing all children into a single mold through testing often leads to frustration and burnout for both parents and children. What if the child is making progress but receives a lower score on a test because he is not yet at the point where the testmaker thinks he should be? The poor test score will cause the child to feel incapable and discouraged and make the parent worry unnecessarily.

The additional time required for test preparation and testing can also overwhelm students with hours and hours of school work each day. This can essentially rob the child of his childhood, leaving him little time to climb trees, learn new skills and hobbies, and simply play.

Crushes the joy of learning

“Studying for the test” can also crush the joy of learning and discovery—sometimes permanently. Testing shifts the focus of education away from learning for its own sake. Instead of being a joyful process of learning about God’s world, education becomes a painful process of “studying for the test” in order to meet abstract standards developed for the “average student” (who does not exist).

How much better to allow the child to advance at his own pace! The most important thing is that the child grows in knowledge and understanding, not that he meets an abstract standard. Proceeding at the child’s pace might mean allowing a kindergartner to move ahead in his beloved math book while breaking his phonics lessons into smaller “pieces” to minimize “the squirmies.” Children who are allowed to proceed at their own pace joyfully master a variety of skills over a period of time. An education is acquired not in the span of one year, but over a lifetime.

Are tests ever a good idea?

Because testing takes up valuable time, can stifle a child’s natural love of learning, and often does not reflect the actual abilities of the student, CHC recommends testing elementary students infrequently, if at all. In the middle school and high school years, however, one or more tests each year can be useful.

Preparation for higher level studies

Starting around fifth grade, it can be worthwhile to have the student take a test in one or more of his subjects each year. This gives the student the chance to practice taking tests in case he needs this skill later in his education, whether in college or in vocational school. This is why CHC’s science curriculum includes two or more tests per year beginning in Behold and See 5 in fifth grade.

CHC does not believe in “teaching to the test,” or teaching students how to pass the test rather than focusing on the knowledge they need for their lives, but introducing students to the format of tests can be very helpful. So while we don’t recommend tests for younger children, older students may benefit from a few tests to allow them a smooth transition into upper level studies.

Study tips for tests

When your student first begins to take tests, he might be at a loss as to how to prepare for the test. Here is a list of useful study techniques.

  • Rephrasing the material, “telling it back” in his own words;
  • Writing his own test with an answer key (he has to decide what is most important in each chapter and what questions to ask);
  • Writing an outline of a chapter by listing the titles and headings and then adding a few details under each point;
  • Teaching the topic to someone else, such as to a younger sibling or to Mom while she cooks dinner;
  • Teaching the topic to himself in the mirror as if he is teaching someone else (speak aloud so as to involve more senses);
  • Making flashcards of key terms and ideas and quizzing himself daily.

Notice that the techniques require the student to engage with the material actively (rephrasing it, writing the test, etc.) instead of just passively. This can make a big difference in terms of retaining the information.

Preparing for the SAT or ACT

Many students go on to college and university, which means that they will need to take the SAT or ACT exams. The questions in these exams are often asked in a specific way that may not initially make sense to most students. Because of this, a student who plans to take the SAT or ACT should dedicate some time to preparing for the exams. This applies not only to homeschooled students but even to students in a public school setting who take tests regularly.

There are an abundance of SAT/ACT prep books, courses, and tutorials available to help students understand the sometimes tricky logic of these exams and prepare to do their best. There are also free practice tests online that your student can use to prepare for the exam. The time spent studying for these exams is well worth it, since SAT/ACT results can influence college admission and can also determine the amount of financial aid that is offered.

So while we don’t recommend using tests in your homeschool in the elementary grades unless they are required by your state, it can be useful to give your student a few tests in middle school and high school so that he can gain experience in taking tests. In high school, it is also important to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, as that will help your student perform well and maximize his post-secondary education opportunities.

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