Who in the world hears “standardized testing” and doesn’t have a simultaneous desire to take a nap and have an anxiety attack?
Standardized tests are universally horrible and I always thought I would never subject my homeschooled kids to them…at least not for a long time.
Did you know that public school kids take about 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-k and 12th grade??
These tests suck up 20-25 hours (on average) of class time every year.
Parents hate it, students hate it, and I’m sure their teachers have some strong opinions too.
Why would any self respecting homeschool subject their students to testing too?
I found out really quickly that this is a polarizing topic among the homeschool moms I hang out with.
I once said, “Who would ever standardize test a 1st grader?! That’s just crazy!”
I received a quiet response with raised eyebrows.
Apparently, my friend had tested her 1st grader.
Why I Was Against Standardized Testing For My Homeschooled Kids
As I fumbled to pull my foot out of my mouth in that conversation, I started to scramble for reasons to explain my view point.
For those of you who live in states like Oklahoma, where you don’t have to tell the school board a thing about your homeschool, you might not understand why this is even a question.
I live in a state that requires you “show progress” at the end of every school year.
This is done by providing the local school board with results from a standardized test, a portfolio, or a letter from a homeschool evaluator (must be someone with a masters in education).
When I first started homeschooling, I thought it was insane to subject my kids to a standardized test.
Here is why:
Schools across the country devote enormous amounts of school time to test prep. I’m not wasting precious hours of our educational experience by teaching to a test. I started homeschooling to get my kids away from craziness like that.
Standardized tests are notorious for doing a terrible job at actually measuring what a child knows. Whose to say that the results will even be accurate?
What better way could I make sure my kids hate school than introducing them to a soul crushing test that is DAYS long?
Research has shown that standardized tests put a tremendous amount of stress on students. So much stress that teacher manuals even tell you what to do if a student vomits on their test. Google it. I’m not joking.
What if our curriculum doesn’t match up with what’s on the test that year? Many homeschool math curriculums teach things in a different order than the typical public school. What if we focus on space for science, but the standardized test focuses on types of clouds and rocks? There is so much to learn, what are the chances that what I teach will match up with what’s on the test?
There is another option for homeschoolers! Public schools don’t have options like we do. They HAVE to measure themselves with standardized tests. Why would I not take advantage of another method?
So it would seem, I have been pretty locked into my position on standardized testing and homeschooling.
For my first 2 years of homeschooling, I opted for the evaluator and felt perfectly fine about it.
Once a year, I scheduled an appointment.
I brought all of our curriculum, worksheets, finished projects, etc. The evaluator and I talked quite a bit, he asked my daughter a few questions, had her read to him, and that was that.
We were given a letter to submit to the school board and went on with our day.
Why I Started to Change My Mind About Standardized Testing For My Homeschool
After the second year with the homeschool evaluator, I was driving home and started to feet uneasy.
It made sense that my kids be evaluated on the actual work we brought to the meeting…but what could he really assess in 30 minutes?
Had our year been as successful as I thought it was?
Was the curriculum I had chosen good enough?
How does my homeschool really stack up?
Was I giving my kids a high quality education? Or potentially holding them back?
Was I not doing standardized testing in my homeschool because I was too afraid to find out the answers to these questions?
I thought this over for a long time and decided that our third year of homeschooling we would try our hand at standardized testing.
We could always go back to the evaluator if it was the nightmare I remembered from my childhood.
In fact, I scheduled our standardized test for the spring – leaving me PLENTY of time to throw it out the window and schedule a meeting with our evaluator, if need be.
Pros of Standardized Testing Your Homeschoolers
I didn’t think there were any, but after giving my first standardized test – I found there are a lot!
I was able to give the test myself in my own house.
We could work at our own pace and schedule because the test is not timed (We used the Standford 10).
My kid could take a break whenever she needed to go to the bathroom, grab something to eat, or just run around outside.
We got to work on it when my kid thinks the best – in the morning and in the evening. No after lunch slump.
Because my kid was not taking the test with any other 3rd graders, she felt no pressure to finish first or be compared to anybody else. In some ways, it was just a normal school day – just a different kind of workbook.
I personally enjoyed finally getting a look at what my 3rd grader was being tested on. It gave me a lot of confidence about our curriculum decisions. No more wondering!
I was able to make notes to myself about what we needed to focus more on and what my kid has down solid – something the evaluator could not tell me with such precision in our 30 minute meeting. Also something that no school teacher has the time to do for each individual student.
I had a great talk with my kid about having strong character and the temptation of cheating. Homeschoolers do not have much opportunity to bring this up because we don’t often test.
It was cheaper than a trip to the homeschool evaluator by about $30.
My kid said the test was “fun.”
Yeah, that last one bowled me over too.
I have actually asked her serval times what she thought of the test, just to confirm that comment wasn’t a fluke.
There were some bumpy parts to the test, but overall she liked reading the stories, answering the science questions, and solving some of the math problems.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that is the result of taking a test in a relaxed, low stress environment with a teacher who is not going to be fired despite the results.
Cons of Standardized Testing Your Homeschoolers
I know that all sounds like everything was rainbows and roses while we took the test…not so much.
Here are the things you want to watch out for with standardized testing your homeschooler:
The entire process took 5 days (We spent roughly 2 hours/day on the test). That is time that could have been spent on a lot of other things.
Keeping my two younger kids quiet and minimizing other distractions was a significant challenge. It was not the sterile test environment I wish it could have been.
It was excruciating to sit next to my kid and feel like my homeschool was being weighed. There was nothing I could do, but sit and wait.
When my kid had questions, there was little I was allowed to do to help her. That became frustrating for both of us.
When I went over the finished test, I quickly realized that my kid did not understand a lot of standardized test “lingo.” There were questions I knew she could have gotten right if they were worded differently. I started to wonder how accurate the results would be.
There were some questions about things we had not studied yet. This frustrated my kid who has perfectionist tendencies.
My kid started to take a little advantage of the lax schedule and wanted to take too many breaks. At some point, I had to be more firm with her so we could finish the test in a reasonable time.
All of it took a lot more time and energy than my 30 minute appointment with the homeschool evaluator.
I have to wait 2 weeks for results to send to the school board.
I am not sure how hairy things will get when I am testing multiple kids at different grade levels. That will be a balancing act for sure.
Why I am Going to Keep Standardized Testing in My Homeschool
There were a lot of pros and cons, but there was ONE HUGE TAKEAWAY for me.
My kid knew the large majority of the content, but struggled to communicate that knowledge through a standardized test.
I also noticed that these tests require a significant amount of mental endurance.
Standardized test taking is a necessary skill, whether we like it or not.
And I realized that I want my kids to master that skill over time so that it works for them – just like I want them to master reading, fractions, and essay writing.
The Importance of Standardized Test Taking Skills
The more I thought about it, I began to remember how standardized tests have impacted my life.
My SAT/ACT scores got me into the college I wanted to get into.
Knowing how to test well helped me CLEP out of a lot of classes and lighten my college course load.
My college professors spent 4 years giving me only multiple choice tests in order to prepare me for the NCLEX – the test all Registered Nurses must take to become licensed.
Passing that NCLEX is what got me my dream job!
Your homeschooler will need to take the SAT/ACT one day.
Then they may need to take the GRE, MCAT, LSAT or GMAT to advance to their dream job.
Will they reach that dream job if the first standardized test they see is the SAT or the PSAT?
Will they have the mental endurance to last for a 4 hour+ test and do their absolute best?
Will they know how to find out what the question is asking and how to eliminate answers?
Will they know how to pace themselves to finish in time?
What I’m NOT Saying
As I said at the beginning, this is a very polarizing topic among the homeschool community, so I just want to be clear.
1. I do not agree with standardized testing in the early years.
That is still crazy in my opinion.
Asking a child to go through hours of testing when they are 6 or 7 is the opposite of everything we are trying to do with homeschooling.
****Always check what your state requires for homeschool evaluation
2. I do not think you should be devoting large amounts of time to test prep every year.
In fact, the standardized test – itself – is the test prep.
Use the test as a reason to talk to your kid about building mental endurance over time, just like a muscle.
Consider working into your homeschool schedule some light testing strategy from a simple workbook. Maybe 10-20 minutes a week, if that.
Think of it as preparing for the bigger tests down the road, not necessarily the test at the end of the year.
****UPDATE: It has been a year since I wrote this and I wanted to pop back in and say using the Math Detective and Reading Detective workbooks 2-3 times a week has made a tremendous impact on my kid’s testing endurance and accuracy. Her scores are much better this year as a direct result of these books sharpening her critical thinking skills.
3. You should use the test as a tool to HELP your homeschooler – not a tool to measure them.
The public school system uses these tests to evaluate teachers, schools, and students.
Homeschoolers should be different.
Use this test to evaluate your curriculum!
Use this test to help you customize your student’s education!
Use this test to expose your kids to the experience of a standardized test…without all the stress that is usually attached to it.
Recap Standardized Testing and Homeschooling
I used to have some pretty strong opinions about standardized testing and homeschooling, but I have definitely changed my mind.
I encourage you to try the testing for yourself and see how different it is in the homeschool setting.
There was so much less stress than I was expecting!
My kid had a great experience, we both learned a lot, and I have my evaluation ready to turn into the school board.
I also began to realize that test taking is a skill I need to nurture (not drill) in my kids.
This is just another way we are making sure every door is kicked open for our homeschoolers.
How about you?
What are your thoughts/experiences about standardized testing and homeschoolers?
Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear it!
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