Homeschool families across North Carolina share at least one fate with traditional educational institutions – annual testing. Though we are given more flexibility in what test we administer, the stresses are the same: Will they test at grade level? Have the efforts of the year paid off? Am I a failure if they test low? Are they doomed to menial labor if they never get that spelling score up?
Testing naturally lends itself to stress. But, we don’t need to fret over scores or speak curses under our breath every testing season. Rather, we can turn annual testing into our friend – not enemy – and use test scores to guide our future teaching choices.
Here are some practical ways to analyze and use test scores to your teaching advantage:
1. Consider how test questions match your curriculum. Often homeschoolers use a more natural approach to learning, allowing children to discover certain skills -- such as using a table of contents or index -- as they mature to a reading or writing level where such tools are necessary. However, often times standardized tests begin testing students as early as 2nd grade for knowledge in using these tools. Don’t allow such questions to concern you – especially in the early years. If you notice several concepts year after year that your student has never been exposed to, consider jotting these concepts down and fitting them into next year’s lessons.
2. Consider the amount of test questions where difficult terminology or names were used for cultural/racial correctness. All these things add to your student’s confusion and frustration level during the test. If she keeps tripping over a culturally confusing name in a story problem, her brain is less free to solve the actual problem. This could easily skew her test score to the negative, not accurately portraying her true skills in the subject.
3. Use low scores to examine subject from every angle. What time of day does your child do the subject in question? What type of curriculum is being used? Does the curriculum best match your child’s learning style? Is it a subject you struggle to teach well? These are all valuable questions to ask when evaluating why your child scored low. Our children are always going to have their educational strengths and weaknesses. But as you seriously investigate for understanding, you are then able to uniquely tailor your student’s curriculum for success.
4. Look for growth, rather than exact grade equivalencies. Once you’ve determined an academic weakness, investigated and implemented an appropriate plan for the next year, don’t expect huge grade level jumps. Be proud of improvement. If she or he progresses more than a year, consider your efforts a success. If the score increases by a year, consider it a success and watch closely for greater improvement the following year. If the score stays the same or goes south, consider what outside factors could have contributed (e.g. change in family life, more strenuous curriculum in another subject, poor testing environment, using a different test, illnesses, etc.). If nothing can be pin-pointed for the lack of improvement then….
5. Remind yourself of the erratic development of infants and toddlers. Remember when your baby began exerting his vocal chords in babbling and trying to produce intelligible speech? Then, suddenly he grew silent but his fine and gross motor skills took a leap forward and he began walking and using a spoon? Look for similar patterns in test scores. The brain doesn’t develop at a nice steady rate and new research shows the brain doesn’t stop developing in early adolescence as once believed. Furthermore, the development of language between boys and girls happens at different rates using different parts of the brain. Did your student seem to stalemate in one subject but take huge leaps in another? Don’t be surprised if your 2nd - 5th grade son lags in his language scores, then suddenly gains several years on his 6th – 8th testing, landing him at grade level by the end of 7th or 8th grade.
Note: As a personal encouragement, this is exactly what happened to my oldest son, while my second oldest is experiencing the phenomena now – stalemate in one subject while showing phenomenal growth in another.
6. Be cautious of comparing test scores of two different standardized tests. Every testing company creates their tests on unique standards and norms. If you use, for example, the PASS test one year and the CAT the next, research differences in the two companies’ testing norm population and standards. Also consider differences in versions of the same test. The CAT 5 (published in 1992) uses different norms and standards for its questions than the CAT 4 (published in 1970). Whatever standardized test you choose, know its method of development and its limitations. Then judge your student’s scores accordingly.
Testing in North Carolina is a necessary evil for all students – homeschooled or not. Recognizing the vast limits of standardized test scores ultimately frees you for using results to your advantage rather than add to your worry.