Monday, March 5, 2012

To Test or Not to Test...That is the Question

When I started homeschooling about fourteen years ago, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to test Bubba at the end of the school year. At that point, although I was a certified teacher in my state (I still am), I was unaware of the Certified Tutor Statute, which would have allowed me to instruct my child as I saw fit and to not test. So I dutifully picked a curriculum (we used A Beka in the beginning), set up a desk area for Bubba to work at, and started "doing school" at home.

Since I was a certified teacher, I got signed up with Bob Jones to be an approved tester, and planned to test him myself at home. We did some practice tests at home, more to get him used to the process of filling in bubble sheets (because we never did this during regular school time), and he did very well, scoring well above grade level (he was in fourth grade his first homeschooled year) in many subjects, on grade level in a few, super well in reading and comprehension, and not so well in spelling and mechanics (as in when to use a comma, etc.). Well, I guess that showed me where we needed to invest time the next year!!

We made adjustments the next school term, and by the end of the next school year, I had connected with a group of military homeschoolers, and offered to coordinate testing for their large group of children on base. We tested with that group of homeschoolers, and this time Bubba's scores were great across the board. Phew! I was relieved. Realistically though, I remind myself that the public schools had him for four years, and it just took him a year or two to recover from that. LOL. I personally think it was the additional reading time he had that improved his writing and spelling scores, not any extra book work we did.

The year after our second year of group testing, we were in a different state, with different rules, and we wound up not testing for the years we were in that state. I found that I didn't miss it one bit. I actually preferred not having that "threat"  looming over our heads, as if I had to keep proving my ability to teach over and over, or he had to keep proving that he was smart. When we moved back to our home state, I registered under the Certified Tutor Statute, and we decided to forego testing PERIOD, because I just didn't see the need for it anymore.

Just in case you are hyperventilating at this point, thinking I am crazy, keep in mind the following things: Bubba wound up graduating from our homeschool with a high average. He completed five apprenticeships while in school (two horticulture ones, three farrier ones) and went on numerous mission trips, including a five week cross country gospel drama trip. He went from homeschool to farrier's school, and had no need of testing of any sort to do any of those things. The fact that he was not inclined to go to college right away was fairly clear early on. He currently takes college courses as he chooses (usually one a semeseter, which he pays for, and in in which gets all As...he finds that he is very well prepared for college based upon the education he received in home school) and got into that college based on his homeschool transcript and an entrance exam which he aced. He owns his own business, just bought a house (other than his mortgage, he is debt free, including his business equipment), and is getting married in June. He had no need for stressful yearly testing (it did stress him out mightily, and me as well, because when he is stressed, everyone is stressed). Testing served no useful purpose.

Now, Tex is a bit different. So far, we have not done a standardized test on him. Why? It hasn't come up as being important. We have used various tools to assess his progress in individual areas such as math and language arts. When he was younger, my mom, a Reading Specialist, gave him a test to check his reading level and comprehension skills (which turned out to be great!). But a yearly standardized test? No.

Have I thought about it? Yes, I have considered doing one at the end of this year so he can see where he is compared to other students his age...solely for the purposes of making sure he takes his upcoming 9th-12th grade years seriously. He has indicated an interest in college, though he doesn't know for sure whether what he wants to do will require one. He is interested in computers and in owning his own business. This is the year we are working on setting up his first apprenticeship, and are trying to help him come up with an idea for a ministry that might make use of his particular skills in computers, working with people, and helping others. I personally think that is more useful and important than testing, but that is just how I feel.

In our minds, it is more important to take each child as an individual and help them determine what their gifts are, and to figure out the best path for them to travel so that they can use those gifts in a way that glorifies God. For some, that might add up to a Classical education with yearly testing, the SATs in 10-12th grades, and a scholarship to Patrick Henry College. For others, it might add up to a Charlotte Mason style education, serving in the children's ministry at church, learning sign language, and being an interpreter during conventions and church services for a few years until getting married. For others, it will be a computer-based fairly traditional education with yearly testing and a straight track to vocational training, following a few years of being dad's apprentice in his appliance repair business. Everyone is different. God did not make us all the same, and we should not feel bound to follow the exact same educational track (or fit the same standardized test scores).

I am simply saying that when it comes to testing, YOU are the best judge of whether your child needs to be tested. Do you worry that he or she is behind in a few areas? Then test and see where you need to do more work next year. I always told Bubba that the test was to see if I was doing a good job of teaching, so he'd be less stressed about it. Do you have a child who is determined to go to college? Then maybe yearly or biennial testing is the thing to do. It will enable your student to be relaxed when testing, and will keep your progress well-documented in case it is needed when you make a transcript (though in our experience, it is not completely necessary...but it may give you peace of mind). Do you have a concerned mother-in-law who just won't quit questioning your sanity over homeschooling? Maybe testing will ease her mind and give you something firm to stand on that she (or other naysayers) will understand. Does your state require testing for your situation? Well, then I guess you have no choice, but don't let it drive how you school your children. If you read a lot and are loving learning, I would venture to guess that your child is getting more out of "school" than the average public schooled child, so take a deep will be fine.

If you have to test because the state says so, then find the way that works best for your child. Hire a person like me to test your child at home where he will be more relaxed. Or if she likes working in a group, find a group to test with. Whatever works for each individual child or family (if your family is large, you may not be able to suit everyone's preferences, but you can customize to an extent). If you can do a portfolio evaluation, that may be the best route for some children, especially those with learning difficulties or special needs. It may also be a more relaxed approach for you, the teacher. Just make sure you  know what is required of you and get recommendations for a quality, trustworthy evaluator. Remember, it is your job (as the teacher and parent) to take all of the information you know about yourself as the teacher, and about your students, and prayerfully decide what works best for everyone's personality, abilities, and goals.

But then that is true of all aspects of homeschooling, isn't it? The Lord gave us these children and put homeschooling on our hearts. He asked us to teach them diligently, to walk with them and talk with them. To love them and disciple them and discipline them. What a marvelous calling that is! And what a blessing it is to be able to homeschool our children and to be able to make those decisions using our understanding of our children and their uniqueness...leaning on the Lord's wisdom and resting in His peace.

To see what others on the 
TOS Homeschool Crew have
to say about standardized 
testing in their homeschools, 
check out the Blog Cruise.


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