Want to polarize a room of homeschoolers? Say these words: standardized testing.
You’ve probably already heard all the standardized testing debates on why standardized testing is good versus why standardized testing is evil:
The pros of standardized testing promote that tests help keep educators accountable and that they’re a “fair and objective measurement of student achievement.”
The standardized testing cons argue that the standardized tests are unfair, are not objective, and are only used to promote specific curriculum and state funding and give many other reasons why standardized testing is bad.
So, which is it?
And, what are standardized tests anyway?
And, do homeschoolers need to take them?
Also, are there standardized achievement exams and homeschool testing services developed specifically for homeschooled students?
And, what are alternatives to measuring is homeschooling effective?
Before we talk about a standardized testing definition and get to the ins and outs of homeschooling examinations, let’s take a look at a question many homeschool parents have (especially new homeschooling parents):
Do homeschoolers have to take standardized tests?
Whether or not your homeschoolers have to take standardized tests will depend on where you live and the homeschool testing requirements for your area.
State laws (and country laws, if you live outside of the United States) govern whether or not your homeschooler needs to be assessed on a regular basis.
There are some relaxed homeschooling states that do no require homeschool testing of any kind, while other states require regular assessments or testing of homeschooled students (generally on a periodic or annual basis).
So, if you’re wondering, “Do homeschooled students have to take state tests?” the answer will depend on the laws for your area.
If you’re unclear about your state standardized testing requirements or are new to homeschooling, check your state laws and requirements.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a closer look at the standardized testing definition.
(Don’t miss the burning question, SHOULD homeschoolers take standardized tests? after this section!)
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What Is Standardized Testing?
Standardized tests are uniform examinations given to a group of students. Theses tests provide the same questions (or exam questions that are considered similar), in the same format (generally multiple choice) to the entire group. Then, all tests are graded and scored in the same way, generally by computer programs to eliminate subjective bias.
What’s the Purpose of Standardized Testing?
The purpose of standardized tests is to provide a comparison of information for a particular student group, generally by grade or level, that acts as both an internal and external measurement tool to ensure the school is meeting their objectives as well as state educational standards. Standard tests also allow schools and government agencies to compare test scores across counties (districts) and states. Schools may receive funding based on standardized test scores.
According to the United Federation of Teachers (UTF), “Standardized tests are ‘summative,’ designed to see if students reached a specific performance level on a specific body of knowledge at the end of a course or year. Like on a licensing exam or an entrance test, the test taker is either over the bar or under it on a predetermined scale.”
UTF went on to report:
“Standardized tests are not designed to measure growth. They can do a decent job of it, said [Scott Marion, the executive director for the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment], if the tests are closely matched over two years and if there is enough data — student scores — to reduce measurement error. But inferring a growth score has risks…Often tests don’t offer enough data to make valid judgments and some scores are ‘imputed,’ meaning statistically guessed at. “
Standardized Testing History
Why the heck do we even test like this?
And, who created the first standardized test?
Also, when did standardized testing begin, anyway?
Before you use standardized testing for homeschooling, I think it’s important that you understand the history.
(Don’t worry, it will be painless. But, it’s super, super eye-opening and may even change the way you see testing!)
READ ON . . .
Take time to understand why these tests were created (and for whom) because . . .
. . . I think it will be REALLY surprising for you!
Here’s a quick overview of standardized testing history.
(It’s kind of shocking why we still take standardized exams today . . .)
[If you want to review the full timeline, click through the SOURCE links below.]
You may be surprised to learn that the ideas for standardized testing first started in 1838.
(Whoa. I mean, who knew?)
According to the National Education Association (NEA), in the years between 1840 to 1875 schools and educators began to replace the standard oral examination process with written exams.
In 1914, Frederick J. Kelly [a life-long educator] invented the multiple-choice test.
He was addressing a national crisis where students the nation needed to process students quickly and efficiently so they could meet the needs of the country and the influx of immigrants during that time.
Frederick’s tests were designed to meet the needs of the Machine Age . . .
. . . where people were trained exactly the same to work in factories in the exact same way.
(You know, not to think for themselves or vary from the norm or be different . . .)
Over the years, the idea of written testing changed and grew until 1926, when the first SAT was administered, but still used the same multiple choice format created by Kelly.
In 1929, Iowa was the first state to administer a state-wide school test for high school.
By the 1930s, the Iowa state test was used in other states.
Today, some students still take a version of Frederick J. Kelly’s first multiple choice test that was created in 1914.
You guys, a version of that same 1914 test is still used to measure our kids!
(Let that sink in for a moment. . . )
Frederick J. Kelly: A Closer Look at Who Invented Standardized Testing (and Why)
Like we mentioned, Frederick J. Kelly is considered the inventor of standardized testing.
He made it so that each test was taken and administered the exact same way every time:
“The exercise tells us to draw a line around the word cow. No other answer is right. Even if a line is drawn under the word cow, the exercise is wrong, and nothing counts. . . . Stop at once when time is called. Do not open the papers until told, so that all may begin at the same time.”
Cathy Davidson, author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions for a Digital Age writes:
“Here are the roots of today’s standards-based education reform, solidly preparing youth for the machine age. No one could deny the test’s efficiency, and efficiency was important in the first decades of the twentieth century, when public schools exploded demographically, increasing from about five hundred in 1880 to ten thousand by 1910, and when the number of students in secondary education increased more than tenfold.”
“[The multiple-choice test] was called objective, not because it was an accurate measure of what a child knew but because there was no subjective element in the grading.”
OK, one more thing I want to cover real quick.
You still with me?
It’s a controversial Act that had unintended consequences on achievement testing.
[IF YOU’RE NOT INTERESTED, JUST KEEP SCROLLING TO THE NEXT SECTION. No worries!]
Effects of No Child Left Behind
Not to get into too much blah-blah-blah, eye-glazing background, but this discussion wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at how the No Child Left Behind Act affected standardized testing.
Many believe that standardized tests really started taking a turn for the worse with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.
The Act was created to help ensure that all children in U.S. public schools meet standards, specifically those in reading and math.
The Act also mandated annual, standardized testing starting in third grade and going through eighth grade.
The UTF weighs in on NCLB and its effects on standardized tests:
The 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which mandated annual testing in grades 3–8, was riddled with unintended consequences. The major one allowed what were essentially low-quality, off-the-shelf commercial tests to drive instruction in U.S. public schools.
A consensus is emerging across the country that testing has skidded off the rails. Using these limited instruments, good schools have been labeled failing, skilled teachers have been called ineffective, and millions of students have been subject to scoring metrics that fluctuate wildly and inexplicably.
OK, now that we’ve covered the background, let’s get to one of questions you’ve probably been wondering . . .
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Should Homeschoolers Take Standardized Tests?
Standardized Testing Pros and Cons
Just like anything, there are good things and bad things . . .
. . and standardized testing is no different in the great standardized testing debate.
You will, of course, have some people give you many reasons why standardized testing is important.
And, you’ll find others who talk about the many problems with “teaching to test” and how standardized testing damages education.
Let’s take a look at common standardized testing benefits, as well as some downfalls of the exams:
Standardized Testing Cons
Disadvantages of standardized testing include:
- Puts undo stress on children.
- Puts undo stress on educators who are judged by test scores.
- Does not account for differences.
- Assumes all students are starting from a common point.
- Disrupts learning with the “prepare for test at all costs” or “teach to test” mentality of some schools.
- Affects curriculum and what is taught in the classroom, with a heavier focus on math and reading over other subjects and topics.
- Classroom time is used mainly for test preparation instead of learning.
- Stores a database of children’s information for unknown uses later.
- Does not take into account that children learn differently, including how they take tests.
- Used to make broad generalized decisions (like firing teachers) based on test scores.
- Doesn’t provide enough data to make sweeping decisions that being made for students, educators, and schools.
- Does not instill a natural love of learning into children.
Standardized Testing Benefits
There are many supporters for why standardized testing is good.
Standardized testing benefits include:
- Quantifiable and measurable results help track things like graduations rates, college preparedness,
- Helps keep educators accountable.
- Ensures schools are meeting necessary educational standards.
- Helps improve the quality of teaching and services.
- Identifies areas of issues that need more focus.
- Implements state standards of education.
- Allows for standard and equal learning methods/services for all students.
- Provides funding for schools.
- Taxpayers can see how schools are using their funding via the benchmarked standards.
Do Standardized Tests Do More Harm Than Good? [VIDEO]
Standardized Testing Statistics
- Educational testing in the U.S. is over 150 years old. [source]
- Tests after No Child Left Behind reported that “African-American students performed about 30 percentage points lower than white students.” [source]
- 70% of educators say “state assessments are not developmentally appropriate.” [source]
- Only 13% of educators say “NCLB-required state standardized test their students took met that standard.” [source]
- 77% of elementary school teachers, 75% of middle school teachers, and 58% of high school teachers say that state standardized tests are not appropriate. [source]
- A Center on Education Policy reported that since 2001, 44% of school districts reduced the time spent on science, social studies and the arts by an average of 145 minutes per week in order to focus on reading and math [for testing]. [source]
- In late 2018, as many as 1,000 accredited, bachelor-degree granting institutions changed their mandated requirements for ACT/SATs, many changing the requirement to “test optional.” [source]
- According to a 2015 study by the Council of the Great City Schools, “The average U.S. student in a big-city public school will take 112 mandatory standardized exams between pre-K and high school graduation, which breaks down to roughly eight tests per year — many of them redundant — taking a total 20 and 25 hours.” [source]
- $1.7 billion is spent by states each year on standardized testing. [source]
- The first standardized test was created in 1914. Some students are still taking a version of that test today. [source]
SCHOOL AND TESTING: Prince Ea on Schooling [VIDEO]
Understanding Standardized Testing for Homeschoolers
The type of standardized test your homeschooler needs depends on the requirements from your state.
Your state will then guide you on how and when to take the test and your child can often take an achievement test online.
(There may or may not be a fee to take the test, depending on your state.)
Is there such a thing as free standardized testing for homeschoolers?
There are many homeschooling placement tests available from private companies. However, most of this standardized testing for homeschoolers have fees associated with them.
A2ZHomeschooling.com has a fantastic, comprehensive list of standardized testing companies for the United States and Canada. (Check out the list here.)
Also, if you use an online curriculum, many of them have free placement tests that you can take so you know what level to start your homeschooler.
Do homeschoolers do better on standardized tests?
The old, “Are kids that are homeschooled smarter?” question.
The same answer that I give to that question is the same answer I give to, “Do homeschoolers do better on standardized tests?”
Homeschooled kids are not some magical rainbow unicorn species that excel at all things over all other children.
Homeschoolers are just like kids in other school settings — some will test really well and some will find that standardized testing is not their “thing” (just like any other kids).
Do homeschooled students have to take the SAT?
What is the SAT?
The SAT is a standardized entrance exam used by colleges for admission.
It is a multiple choice, “pencil-and-paper” exam administered in person.
What does SAT test stand for?
When it was first created, SAT meant Scholastic Aptitude test.
The standardized exam was later expanded and often referred to as “Scholastic Assessment Test.”
Today, it is just referred to as SAT I, measuring verbal and math skills, and SAT II to measure specific subjects like English, literature, history, and more.
The SAT II was formerly the “College Board Achievement Tests.”
Should Homeschoolers Take the SAT?
If your homeschooler takes the SAT, there are SAT prep classes and you can often find an SAT practice test (YES! Even for sat reading practice and sat practice questions for math!) to help you out.
Homeschooled students will take the SAT exam if it is required by a college or other institute requires it for admission.
BUT . . .
Many colleges now are dropping standardized testing admission requirements.
So . . .
. . . check the school requirements!
Your homeschooled student may not even need to take an SAT exam to be admitted to their school of choice!
(READ ON TO FIND SOME CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES TO STANDARDIZED TESTS!)
HOMESCHOOL TIP: The homeschool high school code (CEEB) for the SAT Subject Tests is 970000.
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Are There Alternatives to Standardized Testing?
Other times, parents may look for exams like a free online math placement test or English placement test practice so they know a baseline on where to start studies.
(Choosing standardized tests for homeschoolers will depend on your needs and the state requirements.)
However, is this the best way to assess your child (especially if a homeschool placement test is not required for homeschooling by your state)?
Before you move forward with homeschool standardized testing, ask yourself:
Why do I need a homeschool placement test?
Is it for your own curiosity?
Is it to prove how awesome you are?
Or, how much smarter your kid is?
(Sorry, but let’s be honest here. . . )
Or, do you need it for state reporting (or other purposes)?
Having your child take (an often stressful) standardized test may not always be the best way to assess learning or determine placement, especially if it’s not required by your state or for admission to a program (or college).
8 other ways to assess your homeschooler as an alternative to standardized testing:
Standardized Testing Alternative 1. Create a portfolio of their work.
Review their research, writing, and reports every few months.
Advancement will be apparent (or areas where you need to focus more).
Create a portfolio by getting their work and comparing it to earlier work throughout the year.
You can even make a digital portfolio if they do a lot of work online.
Standardized Testing Alternative 2. Let digital assessment tools do the work.
If you are using an online curriculum or even playing learning games, many of these programs have built-in reporting tools that will allow you to see how your child is progressing.
Standardized Testing Alternative 3. Create personal goals and development plans.
Sit down and ask your child what they want to learn!
(Talk to your kids! GASP! Novel idea!)
Then, help them create a vision board of what they want to accomplish and the steps to accomplish it.
As they work through each process on the vision board, you’ll be able to easily see their progress!
Standardized Testing Alternative 4. Use game-based assessments.
There are so many fun, online learning games out there that your child won’t even realize how much they are learning!
Again, most of these games have assessments where you can review what your child is learning.
Standardized Testing Alternative 5. Debrief.
Debriefing is a great method to use for projects, especially if you have multiple children or do group studies like co-op.
Debriefing is simply having kids provide feedback to each other on their work.
You can debrief with your child in a one-on-one process simply by:
- Asking them to explain their process/how they solved a problem
- What they could’ve done better
- How was time used
- Could planning be better
This is a reflective process that helps you understand what your child is learning while also allowing the child to review their process and practice critical thinking.
Standardized Testing Alternative 6. Use show and tell.
Remember how much fun show and tell was as a kid?
It was one of my favorite days in school or just in our friend group.
Why not use the same fun method to assess your child’s learning!
Have them do a show and tell session on a project or anything they’ve been working on.
Sometimes, the child will get a kick out of having the role reversed where they get to be the “leader” or “teacher.”
Standardized Testing Alternative 7. Do project-based learning.
Working the way through a project is a great method to assess a child’s learning.
You can see where they are at specific steps, how long it’s taking them, how they’re using organizational skills, critical thinking, creativity, and more!
(Learn more on UNIT STUDIES, sometimes called project-based learning.)
Standardized Testing Alternative 8. Observe your child.
It sounds like an easy answer, but this is one of the biggest things you can do to naturally observe your child’s progress.
Talk to them.
Have them explain what they learned.
Do other activities where they will naturally use skills they’ve learned.
It will quickly become apparent where your child needs more help.
(And it doesn’t even take a placement test to know.)