Standardized Testing and Homeschooling
Standardized tests are a source of debate in the world of education, for traditional students and homeschool students alike. The tests take up a good deal of time and resources, and the accuracy of their assessment is often dubious at best. There are, however, some good reasons to implement the tests, which we'll explore a bit later.
In many states, the tests are mandated by law. In other states, though, many parents still opt to give the tests anyway. If your state gives you the freedom to decide whether or not to test, and how to implement the tests if you do decide to use them, here are a few things to consider:
The Concerns About Testing
The nation's public school system is shifting more towards a Common Core curriculum, which means that standardized tests are becoming a more integral part of a public education. Many teachers and parents disagree with this direction, claiming it removes a great deal of flexibility from the classroom. Teachers are no longer able to adapt their courses to the unique needs of their students; rather, they're strictly held to a schedule which revolves around a standardized test, regardless of how their students are progressing.
Many teachers and parents are also concerned about putting students as young as 6 or 7 through several long and stressful days of testing. Students are showing signs of stress and anxiety at home, because they feel an acute pressure from their teachers and administrators to perform well on these tests. These symptoms in some cases are problematic enough that a large number of parents in several states have started an "opt out of testing" movement. The symptoms are even more prevalent in high school, when the student's test scores carry more significant consequences.
Advocates of standardized tests claim that they help students prepare for college testing. However, the testing environment of many college campuses is rapidly changing. Online tests and open-book tests are becoming increasingly popular at campuses across the nation, which give students much more flexibility to decide the time and place of testing. These tests also ease the pressure of traditional proctored tests.
Still others claim that standardized tests in no way prepare students for using information and working in the real world. With so much time and money being directed towards the implementation of these tests, a lot of people are demanding that they be examined and questioned.
The Pros of Testing
- Without tests, it can be very difficult to assess how a homeschooled student compares to his peers in traditional schools.
- Many college programs, gifted programs, and scholarships require students to take tests.
- Standardized tests help students prepare for these tests.
- Tests are often required to receive a high school diploma.
- Test-taking is a skill which can be useful later in life. Many professional certification or civil service programs, for example, require adult learners to take standardized tests.
- Tests do measure a student's proficiency at certain subjects.
The Cons of Testing
- Tests do not always measure subject mastery accurately.
- Scores do not perfectly reflect a student's actual ability. Scores can be adversely affected by testing conditions, test-specific preparation, and level of test-taking skill.
- Tests encourage students to foster certain habits, such as the "cram-regurgitate-forget" cycle, which can actually be detrimental to their overall education.
- Students must spend a significant amount of time preparing for the tests, which many view as a distraction from more meaningful learning.
- Students often experience extreme anxiety and stress because of tests.
- Tests which carry significant consequences for the students' future create a culture of cheating, for students and educators alike.
How to Improve Your Homeschooler's Testing Experience
Many states require homeschoolers to take standardized tests at certain grade levels. When tests are unavoidable, there are still many ways to ease the stress and pressure they carry. For instance:
Create a pleasant testing environment: There's no need for your children to take their test in a sterile, intimidating testing center with a proctor breathing down their neck. Many parents let their kids have snacks and drinks while they take the test, and allow breaks to move around and play in between test sections. Making the environment comfortable will ease the sense of stress and pressure significantly.
Treat the test like a game: Kids love puzzles and games, and that's really all a standardized test is. Help your children understand how the test questions are created, what rules to follow, and some tips and tricks to succeed. For example, make sure your children know to watch out for trick answers ("distractors").
Look over the test beforehand: Make sure your children are at least slightly familiar with most of the subject matter covered by the test. Some outdated tests ask questions which are no longer applicable to modern children's experience (such as using a library card catalog). Try to avoid these tests if possible.
Choose a test with no time limit: The pressure of a ticking clock sends stress levels through the roof. Plus, students who actually know the material quite well often freeze up and do poorly when faced with a stressful time limit.
Administer the test at home: Homeschoolers aren't used to taking tests in a crowded testing center filled with other students (that experience is stressful even for children at traditional schools). Much of the stress associated with testing can be avoided or lessened by taking the test at home.
Pretest: The option to pretest isn't always available, but if it is, take advantage of it. Pretesting ensures that the test your student is taking is at the proper difficulty level, and isn't full of material that they're not prepared for.
Teach your child how to take a test: Test-taking is a skill that improves with practice. Make sure your child knows about testing conventions and terminology. For example, make sure they understand the concept of "all of the above," and know how to properly fill in the bubbles on the answer sheet.
Explain why the test is necessary: If kids don't understand the reasons behind taking a test, they can jump to anxiety-provoking conclusions. Let them know why you're giving the test, that it's simply something every student needs to go through to continue on with their schooling. This can alleviate their anxiety, and improve their performance.