Standardized Testing: A Few Thoughts Written with a #2 Pencil

As a child, I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded standardized test.  I loved the change in the routine– that there would be snatches of time in the day (at the end of each testing period) to read a book.  I liked the challenge: seeing how many I could get right.  I liked objective getting feedback.  But I hated the agony of the instructions.  Do you remember them?  How every year, teacher after teacher had to read us the same paragraph explaining how this was a test, and every answer had to fill the bubble completely, and now you can fill in the bubbles corresponding to your name… make sure that the bubble is filled completely…

Colorado state law requires homeschoolers to be tested every odd year beginning in 3rd grade on a nationally standardized test, such as the ITBS or CAT.  Of course the CSAP, the test given to students in Colorado schools, is not nationally standardized and so doesn’t satisfy the requirement for homeschoolers.

Anyway, this week we are doing ITBS testing.  In one of our homeschool “schools” testing was offered there.  Last year we did the CAT test at home because the ITBS wasn’t available to administer at home if you weren’t a certified teacher.  (I’m not.)  But this year the testing service we use allowed me to purchase the ITBS Complete Battery.  So we’re doing that.
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Bacon popcorn, recipe from Amanda Blake Soule found here.  I’ll be making a lot of it this week.

There is a lot of debate out there over standardized testing.  I don’t want to rehash it all (though feel free to weigh in in the comments) but I think it has a place in our home education.  Why?

1) Taking tests is a life skill.

I have taken the SAT, ACT, and MCAT.  The driver’s license test.  The USMLE, parts 1-3.  My medical boards.  Testing doesn’t seem to be ending for me any time soon.  Taking these tests gives my children practice with the skill of taking a test.

2) Testing in the past has been an accurate measurement of parts of our home education.

There is much we do in our homeschool life that is not measured in any way on the test (e.g., listening to classical music, reciting poetry, playing piano, creative writing).  But the tests in the past have described my children well.  Vocabulary? Good!  Capitalization?  Bad.  Understanding of advanced math concepts?  Good!  Simple math calculation?  Not good.   After I get over the initial shock of seeing my child “on paper” as it were, I am able to hone our curriculum to fill gaps (if I feel that the gaps are important.)

3) The tests are biased and imperfect, like life.

Our family is very privileged and has many advantages, but we still are completely flummoxed by parts of the test.  One year, the test asked which magazine one would use to research some sports star they had never heard of, and one of my kids got upset.  Later, we were able to talk about how tests will always have questions we known about and to strategize how to narrow the options.

One of my children tends to get frustrated when expectations aren’t clear.  Welcome to the real world.  Life in our little homeschool is pretty good.  As  I have only four students, I have the opportunity to maximize their understanding of the directions.  I can tailor assignments to their levels and learning styles.  Consequently, they haven’t had the “learning opportunity” to have a teacher with whom they get off on the wrong foot and have to figure out how to make it work anyway.  They haven’t had to struggle through a math class that is taught entirely to a learning style other than the one that works for them.  Testing gives me a chance to expose their edges– their weaknesses– in a way we don’t do normally.  And I think doing so makes them stronger students.

4) Testing shows me where the children are “performing” compared to others in their grade.

From day one, poor O (my second child) has compared his performance to his older brother’s.  As they are 32 months apart in age, you can see why this is ridiculous.  As a second child, I did the same with my own big brother.  In a few ways, it spurred me on.  (Side note: we both eagerly awaited my SAT scores to see who did better after all.  He did better in math; I did better in English– but 2 years apart, we achieved the same total score.)  But when O went to kindergarten one day a week and saw that he wasn’t behind the other children it was an incredible aha! moment for him.  I could tell him till I was blue in the face that I’m not comparing them, but he was comparing himself to J.

His first test let me compare him to third graders around the country.  It helped him, I think, so see that he was right where he should be.
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There will also be a lot of play dough for SweetP, who does not yet have to test.  But I did make her a bubble-page to fill in just in case she wants a piece of the action.

The beauty of standardized testing for home scholars is that their parents get to set the stage for how the children interpret the tests.  No administrator is using the test as a measure of my success, and threatening my job if my children don’t do well.  No teacher is telling my children over and over how important these tests are.  No parent is telling my children they’d better do well, or else.

I know that since No Child Left Behind, testing has changed how schools educate.  No test is the ultimate judge of our education.

We don’t emphasize it.  We don’t study for it (except that, I confess, we did review capitalization and punctuation rules for 5 minutes a day for the past 2 weeks).  We don’t sit at the table with the children to analyze their results.  (Sam and I do that privately, and then we given them minimal feedback based on their interest in it.)  My hope is that standardized testing remains present in our school year, but as a hiccup.  A brief, necessary interruption, to build a skill that will be useful to them in the future.

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14 thoughts on “Standardized Testing: A Few Thoughts Written with a #2 Pencil

  1. I love that you made a bubble sheet for SweetP! And “The beauty of standardized testing for home scholars is that their parents get to set the stage for how the children interpret the tests” is so true, and so wise, and applicable to so many other things! I am, however, very thankful to be moving from a very lenient homeschool state to a very lenient homeschool state! I’m sure I could make the best of whatever laws were imposed on our homeschool experience, but it’s so very nice to have a few less things to worry about right now. Perhaps pursuing standardized testing on our own will be in our future somewhere.

      • To my knowledge, testing is not required in Texas either. I actually think the only requirements here is teaching Texas history (not US history, just Texas). I looked into it briefly a year ago. But I don’t think they require records or testing of any kind. I have to refresh my research on it, now that we are here.

      • Ok, I exaggerated. I looked it up on HSLDA. They say, “homeschools do not have to initiate contact with a school district, submit to home visits, have curriculum approved or have any specific teacher certification. Homeschools need only have a written curriculum, conduct it in a bona fide manner and teach math, reading, spelling, grammar, and good citizenship.” There are no required standardized tests.

        I’m going to have to mull over this for a while though, since we’ve been unschooling. Obviously that means we don’t have a written curriculum. I’m curious who/what defines conducting school in a “bona fide manner” though. 😉

      • I feel like writing down what we do at the end of each morning counts as having a written curriculum, even if I made it up myself.

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  3. In our town, there is a co-op just to take the Stamford Achievement Test. I think the little kids stress more because the gym has florescant lights that flicker and cinder block walls that echo. The big kids just get tired. They do love to play games once everyone is done, but the Stamford isn’t timed, in order to be more inclusive, so it can take until WAY after lunch to finish up.

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