Let’s have a conversation. Just you, me, and all our other friends who will read this blog post. We will set aside the to-do lists and maybe send the kids outside or set them up with a big bucket of Lego® and an audiobook. Then we can spend some time really digging into a topic that — if we’re telling the truth — is not always easy to understand classically. Let’s talk about whether homeschoolers have to take standardized tests.
How Standardized Tests Can Be Helpful
Because we are classical educators, applying the classical tools of learning to this conversation is appropriate. In doing so, a natural starting place is to consider the first common topic of definition, although we could just as well start with any of the five common topics.
What is a Test?
The online Oxford dictionary Lexico defines test as “a short written or spoken examination of a person’s proficiency or knowledge. ‘a spelling test’.” The verb to test is a little more complicated because it requires an object — something or someone placed under modest strain to measure capabilities or knowledge.
With these definitions in mind, let’s look at some examples of how we might use the word test:
- We test our limits.
- We test our patience… wait, that’s what the kids do!
- We give items in the refrigerator the sniff test.
- We have classic items in our closets that have stood the test of time.
- We test our students.
- We evaluate their test.
Viewing Tests as Tools
We commonly use the word test for all types of circumstances. Our meaning is to apply an evaluation or assess something or someone. In a classical sense, when we assess something, we are using a tool to discern, judge, measure, quantify, and review the quality of that thing.
We could even say that when we assess our students, we use tests as tools to support our teaching. When we apply modest strain, the results can reveal some of what is thriving in our home school. The opposite is also true — that the same test can show some of our shortcomings.
We may get other insights too. Tests can reveal what we’ve been upholding as our priorities. Sometimes they pointedly tell where we’ve stored up treasure and where we’ve buried talents. Viewed as a tool, assessment can inform you as the parent-teacher how you can better serve your student. For your child, assessment can show them how to act in their future studies.
Thinking about assessment and testing like this may not be common. But still, viewing tests as tools can help classical homeschool families understand that tests can have value rather than just being a systemized part of traditional schooling.
Now, to address the question at hand, “Why should homeschoolers take standardized tests?”
Reasons for Homeschoolers To Take Standardized Tests
Of course, there many are practical answers to that question:
- Many states require homeschool students to report academic test scores annually.
- Standardized tests can offer feedback about how your child’s scores compare to other children the same age.
- For neurodiverse students or students with delays, test results provide documentation that is sometimes required to access specialized support.
- Your Challenge (middle or high school) student may desire practice with standardized tests and norm-referenced tests in preparation for college entrance exams.
- You desire greater insight into some of the “nuts and bolts” data a norm-referenced test will provide.
- You know that growing in independence, your teen will respond better to a test with an external proctor, someone other than mom or dad.
Testing Can Help Us Make Sound Judgements
We said something earlier that we should probably explore a bit more. How can a student know how to act from an assessment or test? It sounds lofty and maybe even unrelated. But the more we dig into it, the more we’ll come to understand that apart from assessment, none of us know how to act. To adequately address how we ought to act, we must make a judgment. We must identify our God-given and God-imaging capacity to reason and determine what should be done.
Assessment is both judgment and judging. It gives us feedback that helps determine how to order things. Assessment helps us be discerning. It helps us move toward what we should and helps us move away from what we should not.
But how is this connected to taking a test? Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- A test may help us judge whether we are ordering our time well and if our student’s time is well-ordered.
- A test may help us discern habits of attention or inattention.
- A test may help us evaluate which subject(s) should receive more or less focus.
- A test may help us judge how much content has been mastered and what remains to be grasped.
Because we have chosen to classically educate, we also know that we are not just looking for results when looking at some of these bullet points. We’re looking for what points us to truth, goodness, and beauty. This is essential because assessing for virtue is exactly what we’re hoping to do by educating from a classical, Christian worldview!
Standardized Tests: Requirements, Relief, and Results
Before closing out, there are three final thoughts I want to address related to the question of whether homeschoolers have to take standardized tests: requirements, relief, and results.
State Requirements for Standardized Tests
If you’re wondering whether your homeschool student should take standardized tests, the reality is that they might have to. Many states require homeschool families to submit annual test scores as part of their educational requirements. It’s not negotiable whether we’re going to test or not. Fortunately, these assessments don’t have to be complicated. For example, Homeschool Testing Services offers accessible, online homeschool assessments for students to take in the convenience of their own home.
However, just because your state may require your homeschool student to take standardized tests doesn’t mean there aren’t other benefits from taking these yearly assessments. For instance, annual standardized testing will help prepare your student’s academic portfolio, test-taking skills for college entrance and placement exams, and validate their hard work and effort. In a way, you can view standardized tests and their results as communication tools that offer insight and measurable inventory of your homeschool achievements and shortcomings.
Standardized Testing Provides Relief
When we as parents learn to think about homeschool assessments as tools to support teaching, we can find immense freedom. We should give ourselves permission to use the results of homeschool assessments as tools to discern rather than to measure success or failure. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about all the things we’ll never get to, all the things we struggle to “get right.” Homeschool standardized testing can offer relief from these feelings by showing us how we can act and do what we ought — right now and with humility — to better our home schools for the sake of our children’s souls and our own sanity.
How to Use Standardized Test Results
What do we do when the test results come back? We make judgments. We discern. We celebrate successes, correct as necessary, and order ourselves to help our students achieve better results next time. Standardized test scores can point to mistakes we’ve made along our homeschooling journey that we can make right the following year. Some days we yelled and cried. And some days were the best! Maybe we could agree to respond with raised hands and open palms and offer our efforts to our sovereign Lord Christ. Because after all, the only result we care about and the only assessment we want our hearts to long for is, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).
Homeschool Testing Services
Fortunately, standardized testing for homeschoolers doesn’t have to be complicated. One of our Classical Conversations membership benefits is a partnership with Homeschool Testing Services (HTS), which has made standardized testing for homeschool families doable since 2008. In 2021, Homeschool Testing Services served over 6700 families by providing an easy standardized testing experience. Exclusively offered online with timed and untimed tests, Homeschool Testing Services supports both homeschool parents and students with the convenience of taking standardized tests like the Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP) and Stanford-10.
The Five Common Topics
I mentioned a classical tool earlier called the five common topics. If you’re new to classical education, learning about the five common topics is a great place to start. So, take the dog for a walk, linger over a cup of coffee, or plug in while driving your child to basketball practice and explore each common topic in detail through these 25-minute podcast episodes from Everyday Educator.
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