If you’re just starting homeschooling or questioning which grade to place your children in, you’ve probably wondered about giving them a placement test. A placement test can help you buy resources most suited to your children’s academic needs. But most curriculum publishers don’t offer placement tests for their courses. So how do you make an informed decision when buying your homeschool materials? And how do you place your children in the right grades? We’re here to answer your many questions about placement tests and grade placement.
What is a homeschool placement test?
A placement test is a type of assessment that measures what children already know to determine where they need to begin their learning. They are designed to determine if a child has learned the educational objectives needed to enter a particular grade level of a subject. Ideally, a placement test should be comprehensive—an overview of everything taught in each age range for the most accurate placement in every subject area. But a comprehensive test would be massive. Instead, placement tests are often grade- and subject-specific. A placement test focuses on the educational objectives of the previous grade or grades needed for success in the upcoming grade.
In a traditional school environment, a placement test is given by a teacher, academic advisor, or guidance counselor. The results of the placement test, in conjunction with other reports and parental insight, will help the teacher determine if the child should repeat a grade or move on to the next one. By itself, the test score isn’t enough to make an informed decision about grade placement.
What are educational objectives?
An educational objective, which we also call a course objective, is a general statement that describes what children should be able to do upon completing a course. For example, one of the course objectives for our BJU Press Reading 5 is for children to evaluate the effectiveness of a text in accomplishing its author’s purpose. Course objectives should not be confused with lesson objectives. Lesson objectives are more specific statements about the material that help the teacher and student meet the course objectives. For instance, a lesson objective for Reading 5 might ask children to explain how repetition enhances the story “The Beginning of the Armadillos.”
What does a placement test consist of?
A placement test should consist of general questions that match educational objectives for the subject and grade level a student has already completed. These questions can match any format—multiple choice, true or false, matching, short answer, long answer, or essay. Alternatively, a placement test could be a project designed around educational objectives. An effective placement test won’t ask students to recall specific information unless it’s general knowledge a student must know to complete a grade. For example, math facts or grammatical functions are required information. Who invented the plow isn’t. Specific facts—dates, events in a story, or specific developments in history—are rarely required to achieve an educational objective, and a curriculum publisher can’t assume a student has been taught all the same stories or historical details. What both publishers and parents need to know is whether the student has learned the skills they need in the next grade level.
Are placement tests hard?
Because the most common type of grade placement test needs to demonstrate that a student has learned a set of objectives and can use them, then completing the test shouldn’t be difficult. The student simply needs to show what they already know and demonstrate that they are ready to enter the next grade. Finding a placement test difficult usually means that the student isn’t ready to learn new material.
Do your children need a homeschool placement test?
No, you don’t need to use a test to appropriately place your children in a grade level. Placement tests have limitations in what they can do or show you, and it is usually best to place your children in the grade that most closely corresponds to their age. Most curriculum publishers that use grade levels for their books also write for a specific age, so age is a great way to determine which grade a child should enter.
You should only consider skipping or repeating a grade if you have significant reason to believe the next course is best for your student.
Reasons you may consider repeating or skipping a grade
- You’re confident your child has not met the learning objectives needed in the next grade because they have consistently struggled in learning the material.
- Your child is not adequately challenged by the material in the current grade.
- Your child’s previous educational experience was light or unfocused, and you believe your child is now academically behind.
What can a homeschool placement test tell you?
A placement test usually gives a percentage score of correct answers that correspond to the educational objectives a student needs to know to proceed to the next grade level. The score and questions presented can reveal what a child needs to know for the next grade level and whether you need to review the previous course before proceeding. It can also give you objectives to focus on if you find that you need to repeat material. But the test alone isn’t an indicator of whether the student should or should not proceed.
Limitations of placement tests
Certain factors can make the results of a placement test inaccurate in revealing what your child is truly capable of. These factors may include but are not limited to
- Test anxiety. Students who struggle with severe test anxiety won’t be able to demonstrate what they know on a test.
- Special needs. Students with unique learning needs because of learning disabilities or challenges may need a revised test or accommodations.
- Gifted and talented. Students who excel at learning may be limited by a placement test. A placement test can only demonstrate what they know, not what they are capable of.
- Emotional and mental development. A placement test can’t tell you whether your student is emotionally or mentally ready to understand information.
How to use a placement test in your homeschool
Use a placement test like a standardized test. Let it illuminate areas of learning that your children are successful in and areas that they struggle in. Use the results to create focused review sessions to adequately prepare your students for the next grade level. Don’t prioritize test results over what you know about your children’s abilities.
How do you prepare your kids for a placement test?
In many ways, preparing for a placement test should be just like prepping for any other test. Make sure your student is getting consistent sleep and eating well. In addition, remind your student of the following:
- A placement test isn’t the final say in grade placement. You, the parent, are.
- Don’t guess. It’s ok (and better) to leave questions you don’t know blank. This will give a more accurate score.
- The “grade” or score doesn’t matter. These grades won’t be recorded in the transcript or grade reports.
Can you use a free homeschool placement test?
If you find a free placement test provided by your homeschool curriculum publisher, then it may be valuable in making an informed placement decision. Use caution when looking at free tests created by independent or third-party individuals. These tests may not accurately represent the educational objectives of a curriculum.
Grade placement by age
A quick way to determine what grade your child is in using their age is to subtract 6 from their age. Or, consult the following chart.
Grade placement using a scope and sequence comparison
Many curriculum publishers offer a scope and sequence for their courses. A scope and sequence should tell you what concepts are taught in each course. To use these for grade placement, you can compare what your student has learned in their previous grade or curriculum with what they would be learning in the curriculum you’re looking at. If they’ve already covered all or most of the content in that grade, try the next grade up. If they haven’t covered the content in that grade, then that is likely the most appropriate grade to place them in.
Grade placement based on standardized test scores
While standardized tests are not designed for grade placement, they can inform your decision. If your child performs at or above grade level in all subject areas and you have no other concerns, then you could confidently proceed to the next grade level. If your child is consistently performing below grade level, consider what you know of your child before letting low test scores prevent them from proceeding.
Skipping grades in homeschool
If your child consistently breezes through information in courses and performs well in regular tests and standardized tests, you may consider skipping a grade level in a specific subject or in skipping a grade entirely. When considering skipping a grade, it’s important to distinguish between lack of challenge and speed. If your student is bored by new material because they already understand it, then they are not being appropriately challenged. Students who need more of a challenge need to either go deeper or go to a higher level. If your student learns and understands information quickly but is still challenged by it, then they don’t necessarily need to advance to a higher level.
If you’re considering taking a 5-year-old straight to first grade without completing kindergarten (not starting first grade at 6 years old without doing kindergarten) be prepared to take your school year very slowly.
Plenty of curriculum publishers take students who have not completed kindergarten into consideration when writing Grade 1 materials, but, remember, they assume the student is at least or is very nearly 6 years old. The students entering Grade 1 should either be ready to learn to read or preparing to learn to read. Most 5-year-olds do not have the mental maturity needed to master reading skills, so going into Grade 1 without having a year in kindergarten to learn and prepare could set them up for failure.
Essential kindergarten skills for first grade
- Phonemic awareness
- Number sense
- Letter-sound association
- Service words
- Word families
Skipping grades in elementary school
It is often best to skip a grade earlier rather than later since many concepts are repeated throughout the elementary grades. Be aware, though, that the middle school transition grades can be difficult for younger students. Upper elementary and middle school students should focus on learning strong study skills to prepare for high school work.
Skipping grades in high school
In general, high school grades can’t be skipped. There are options and pathways for accelerated learning, but these lead to completing the same amount of work in less time. It doesn’t mean skipping a grade without completing the work. States have graduation requirements for a certain number of credits in each subject area. If a student excels in a certain area (or all of them), they don’t skip a grade. Instead, they will typically take more advanced classes to fulfill credit requirements for their transcripts. Students interested in graduating early may choose to double up on classes or work through the summer. They won’t leave gaps on their transcripts, especially if they are college-bound or need those classes for their future career paths.
Repeating a grade
Because of the flexibility of homeschooling, it’s rare for homeschool families to completely repeat a year. Most families cover learning challenges by adjusting teaching, pace, and assignments as they go. They may take longer to finish the year, but they often finish without needing to repeat. However, there are some instances where repeating a year may be a valid consideration.
Transitioning from public school to homeschooling
Many homeschool students who have come out of public school because of traumatic experiences or special needs may have missed a lot of learning because of social or emotional stress or trauma. In such cases, you may be starting your homeschool journey mid-year, so it may be beneficial for you to start the year over to wipe the slate clean. An additional consideration at this time may be to go through a period of deschooling before you begin your homeschool journey.
Transitioning from light academics
If you’re coming from a curriculum or school that did not take learning as seriously as you would prefer, you may find that your children are academically behind. While it is important to get children back on track, they may catch up quickly.
Mental maturity, age, and readiness contribute significantly to a child’s ability to master new material. Older students are often able to progress through material for younger students faster simply because they are more ready to digest it, so long as there are no extenuating circumstances preventing them from progressing. If you feel your children need to repeat a grade or several, you may be able to cover the repeated material faster to get back on track. Alternatively, you might decide to move a child to the next grade and progress slowly, unless your child is entering a high school or upper-middle school grade.
When deciding what grade to place your children in and what materials they need to succeed, your insight and knowledge of your children is the most valuable resource for you. A test simply can’t compare with what you as the parent know and understand about your children.