I’ve never been a fan of standardized testing of school children.
As a public school teacher, I was required to administer standardized tests. They took a week to administer and then parents worried about them for months. My school staff became very good at preparing students for the tests in efforts to improve test scores and, therefore, minimize parental and societal anxieties.
When I started homeschooling my own children, I was conflicted the first (and only) time I administered standardized tests. I was understandably curious to see how my children would stack up against their peers. But I couldn’t decide whether I should prepare them for the tests or not. On the one hand, I wanted to see how much academic information my children had retained in long-term memory (which is really the only thing standardized tests measure at the elementary level.) On the other hand, I knew their percentile scores would be skewed if I didn’t prepare my children for the test in the same way that school children are prepared. After all, in schools, the testing dates and the entire flow of curriculums are often aligned to give children the best chance of doing well on the tests.
In the end, I decided to simply administer the standardized test without preparation to my two elementary-aged children and see what happened.
Here’s what happened: Nothing. There were no surprises. Anywhere. I learned nothing I didn’t already know. My child who was excellent at memorizing information did well on the test across the board, with little differentiation between subjects. My child who was not good at memorizing did fair on the test across the board, with little differentiation between subjects.
That was the last time I gave standardized tests to my children. Today, both of these children have graduated from my homeschool and from college. Both have good, well-paying jobs and a start on meaningful careers. The “excellent tester” and the “fair tester” are equally successful.
Three Reasons Not to Administer Standardized Tests in Your Homeschool
1. Standardized Tests Have Limited Purpose
Standardized tests primarily measure how well your child can memorize and store isolated bits of information in long-term memory. In the past, this skill was necessary for school and work, but this is not the case anymore. With the advent of the Internet, computer applications, and portable devices that can keep all the information you will ever need at your fingertips, jobs now demand workers who can utilize and apply information, not simply regurgitate it. Colleges have followed suit by refocusing their classes and career preparation programs. Therefore, the skills measured by standardized tests are no longer needed.
2. Standardized Tests Will Only Tell Good Teachers What They Already Know
Whether administering standardized tests to public school children or my own children, the results rarely told me things I didn’t already know. Since traditional curriculums are standardized themselves, a standardized test will usually reflect how a child is doing in his daily work. Even if traditional education tools are not utilized, most good teachers, even public school teachers with large classes, know far more about the strengths and weakness of their students than what a standardized test can measure.
3. Standardized Tests Tempt Teachers to Change the Focus of Their Teaching
When teachers choose standardized tests as a measurement tool they almost always choose standardized curriculums as their teaching method. This is called “teaching to the test.” It’s inevitable because it makes sense. If you are going to administer a big math test, you don’t spend all your study time preparing for a science test. If you want to take your driver’s test, you don’t spend your preparation time riding your bicycle. If you are going to use a standardized test to measure your homeschool, you will naturally use it as a guide to determine the content of your homeschool.
Homeschool parents should shelve the standardized tests and keep their focus on promoting higher thinking and learning skills than those measured by standardized tests. While public schools are often required to administer these tests and private schools feel the pressure to utilize them to “sell” their schools, home schools can avoid them altogether. When they don’t, they are choosing to restrict their own freedom and ability to educate their children well because they are using a flawed standard of measurement to set the course for their homeschool.
Even our legal system has recognized the necessary and fundamental right of homeschooling families to educate their children as they see fit, free from most of the expectations placed on public schools. It’s remarkable, really, that in an era when such massive amounts of accountability and high stakes testing is required of public school children that private schools and home schools remain relatively free of such demands. Most states require no testing of homeschoolers at all. Of those that do, few states use the results to force immediate changes in home schools. Some states don’t even ask to see the test results.
Homeschool teachers should take full advantage of the academic freedoms they have been given. Skip the standardized tests and build smart, motivated and creative learners for the future instead.
Until next time…Be fearless.