We want to discuss something that can potentially sap the joy from homeschool for many parents and caregivers: tests and assessments! While few parents look forward to those year-end proof-of-progress reports, they don’t have to fill you with dread.
Evaluations are sometimes necessary, depending on your state requirements. Be sure to check your state’s laws to know when and if you need to submit assessments or exam scores in order to comply with your local laws. If you aren’t sure, check the HSLDA website or your state’s official website for a summary of your state’s laws.
What if they aren’t legally required?
So your state doesn’t require testing or assessments at the end of the year. Should you test your child anyway? Well, that depends. There is much research to suggest that testing in the elementary years is not necessary or useful―and can actually be detrimental. (And many people don’t believe that they are fair at any stage, as you can read here and here.)
But older children who are planning on going to traditional high school or moving onto higher education can benefit from learning test taking strategies. The bottom line is that it’s a personal choice that you should make with your family in mind.
What tests are available?
There are several options for tests depending on your state and your child’s age and educational background. Some popular options include the California Achievement Test (CAT), TerraNova, Stanford Achievement Test (SAT), and IOWA Assessment. There’s a good comparison chart here. Some states even allow you to test at your local public schools. As children enter high school levels, many states will also accept college entrance exams. Additionally, states will also accept a final year assessment from some accredited online programs such as Acellus.
The easiest and most convenient exam in our experience for K-12 is the CAT test. It has options for timed and untimed tests. Some tests are online, like the SAT and IOWA, while others are paper tests that require your child to bubble in the answer. The IOWA test must be purchased by a parent/guardian with a Bachelor’s degree.
Most of the test makers offer practice exams and study guides that you can use to help familiarize your child with the test taking type and give them an idea of what to expect on test day.
Where do you buy tests, and how much do they cost?
There are several companies that sell exams, but two of our favorites are Academic Excellence and Seton Testing. Cost ranges from $10-50, and you should keep in mind that some states require state-administered tests only. Check this link to see if your state accepts a third-party exam.
How do I go about actually testing?
The good news is that you have a lot of flexibility for how you conduct your testing. Many families choose a “test week” at the end of their school year and do no other homeschooling on the days they test. Then, they celebrate afterwards with treats or a favorite meal and really focus on the child’s mental health for the rest of the day or week.
Some families use the study guides and practice material to prepare, but in our experience, most don’t. If you are worried that there are gaps that need to be filled, review the practice exams and see what information you need to cover with your child before giving them the actual test so you both feel more prepared.
Keep in mind that once you receive your test, you are on a time clock to administer the test to your child. Most exams are on a “rental” basis that range 2-4 weeks. Be sure to return items on time to avoid other issues.
How do I read the results?
Test makers will explain the scores when they forward you the results. Keep in mind that these tests are not pass or fail—a standardized test allows you to draw a comparison between your child’s score and the scores of other individuals of the same age or grade. This is why scores are often given in percentages. For more on that, read this article. Your state might require a minimum percentage score to see advancement from year to year. For example, New York State requires a score of 33 percent score on national norms. Once you have your test results, you can decide to submit them to your state, or not. (That’s right—you don’t have to submit them!) Some parents choose to test again or go with a different option all together.
Are tests my only option?
If you are unsure about testing but evaluations are required, assessments are a great way to go. (If your state allows it.) Many professional educators offer their services to homeschoolers from anywhere between $50-200 per assessment. (It’s important to know who can serve as an evaluator in your state. As always, check your state laws before hiring an assessor.) Some will meet with your child in person, while others offer virtual visits. The assessor will typically request a portfolio of the child’s work, including writing and math samples and any course work or projects they have worked on during the year.
The goal of most assessments is to see growth throughout the year―to compare the child to himself from the beginning of the year to the end. (Unlike a test which compares him with his peers. You know which one we prefer. ) After spending about an hour with your child, they will write a summary of their findings. Parents then forward these reports to their district along with any other final paperwork required. The benefits of evaluations by someone who can personally meet your child is that they can see all the things your child does well, where they excel, and what gaps there are that could potentially be addressed if necessary. Experienced homeschool assessors are also often familiar with the many approaches to homeschool, and they can tailor their assessment to suit the style your family uses.
A final thought
We hope the information in this article has been helpful in checking off the box of end-of-year tests and assessments. But if we could leave you with just one piece of advice, it would be to try not to let testing and assessments stress you (or your child) out!
Testing may be required where you live, but try not to make your homeschool about the tests. Emphasize to your child that a test only details what they might not know. It doesn’t focus on all that they do know―which is so much and so much more important!
Here are more tips from the experts on helping kids prepare and cope with testing.