It’s cool in homeschooling circles to hate standardized testing. Since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, standardized testing has had a huge impact on public schools. Many parents and classroom teachers alike have pushed back. Their distaste for standardized testing has reached into the homeschool movement as well.
Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the overuse of these “bubble tests.” They can’t tell everything about a child or a teacher, but government bureaucracy relies on the scores to judge both. And that leads to one of the biggest problems with big government testing—it’s creating what’s called high-stakes testing.
Standardized tests have far-reaching implications for the test-takers. Your score on a high-stakes test might determine if you pass a course or if you get into medical school. Preparing for such tests becomes all-consuming for a student and introduces copious amounts of stress into the test-taking experience.
In contrast, low-stakes tests have limited impact on the test-takers. Such a test contributes to determining a student’s grade or placement, but the test is only one small part of the grade or one factor among several. Think of a yearlong course with fifteen tests. Each test matters, but none of them is a make-or-break situation by itself. If you fail one test, you can make up ground later on. These tests place some pressure on a child but not overwhelming stress.
What kind of test would have little to no impact on the test-taker? That’s the case when the results are only for the parents’ benefit or to set the child up for what he or she is going to learn next. One example would be a pre-test you give your child over what you plan to teach, but there is no grade on the test. This test puts no pressure on the child to perform at a certain level but informs you about what your child needs help with since the results provide clear insight into the child’s knowledge and skill level.
Removing the Stakes
The key to successfully using standardized testing is to remove the stakes. Make sure your children know that these tests won’t determine their grades or whether they go on to the next grade. Let them know that they should do their best because you want to know how great they’re doing. But also tell them that their results won’t change how proud you are of them.
As a homeschooler growing up, I was tested in our homeschool group every year; my mom made sure of that. But she always told me to do my best and not to worry about the results. I knew she used the results somehow, and I thought it was to determine what grade I would be in the next year.
Then the day I finished third-grade standardized testing, as I climbed into our white minivan, I glanced in the front seat. There I saw a bag containing all my fourth-grade curriculum. “Mom!” I said. “How do you know how I did on my tests? I just finished!”
My mom explained to me that my standardized tests didn’t determine what grade I was going into. She already knew I was ready for the next grade.
That experience changed my view of testing. I knew that my academic career didn’t hinge on the test.
Homeschool families test for a variety of reasons. You may test because you find it provides valuable feedback. Or perhaps you have to test because you live in one of the twenty-two states that require it. In any case, consider eliminating the stakes.
This advice raises two questions, which we’ll address in upcoming blog posts. First, if there aren’t any stakes, why test? So in our next post, my wife will talk about some benefits we’ve seen through testing our daughters.
The second question that arises is how to remove the stakes and make mind-numbing bubble-filling tests fun. Jenna will post six tips on how to make standardized testing enjoyable for children.