(yes, I’m still here. Thanks for waiting. And it’s not Lent anymore, so I’m done with the “giving up staying up past midnight” thing… even if I shouldn’t be.)
Since we homeschool, we’re done with our school year, as much as we’re ever “done” with schoolwork. We started at the beginning of August, and we’ve run through the end of April. We’ll read books, watch science shows, talk about biology in the garden, and do the first forty or so math lessons in the next book up over the summer, so we’re never exactly completely “done” with school… which was the plan, since you should never say, “I’m not learning anything today because that’s a school thing!”
The problem with the end of the year? Testing. Ick. Major ick.
Now, I have to say, testing was very nice to me. I excelled at it. I did very well in school, and my standardized test scores reflected that. As a result, scholarship opportunities were opened to me and schools sent me piles of glossy catalogs, begging me to come to their university. So, I have every reason to love testing and encourage my children to do well at it.
As a homeschooling mom, however, I have come to hate testing.
At first, I thought the tests would be good practice. They’d prove progress. And, hey, we’re homeschoolers; with all this individual attention, the tests should be a breeze, right? (No, no, and no, because teachers teach to the test for a reason: so that one or two odd vocabulary questions don’t sink your score. My daughter has a great vocabulary, but struggled with the weird (and rather significant) “words with two totally unrelated meanings” section.)
Unless your state requires it, I would highly discourage using the batteries of nationally normed, end-of-year testing, especially at the younger grades. (And as the “Familyman” on the Old Schoolhouse e-newsletter put it, if your state requires testing, then move. A few years ago, I would have taken that as a bit over-the-top. Now, I wish it was an option.) So what’s wrong with end-of-year testing?
1. It does not give you a helpful picture of the student’s progress. First off, you’re with your child every single day; you have a very good picture of where his strengths and weaknesses are! Unlike a teacher with thirty students in a classroom, you don’t need a test to tell you this. Secondly, tests tell you who is good at taking tests; they do not necessarily reflect a student’s actual understanding of the material. I tested very well. My children have had on and off years for testing; one year, they get top marks and the next year they barely pass. And I don’t think that forcing them into end-of-year testing in first grade will improve their SAT scores a decade from now. Most of us learned how to fill in the stupid bubbles on the test sheet later in life, and we survived.
2. Testing is very stressful. In my state, end-of-year tests are required to “show progress.” If your child fails to score above the 25th percentile, you will be required to submit to further scrutiny of your academic plans. If you fail to score above the 25th percentile for two years running, your child can be involuntarily placed in public schools. (So what do they do with the bottom quarter of public school kids? And why would that environment be better than one-on-one instruction at home for remediating weak scholastic performance?) The whole trying-not-to-look-stressed, “Oh, don’t worry; it’s a chance to show off how much you know!” only worked for a year or so. Then my kids started getting stressed about the tests and flubbing things I know they’d known solidly for months.
3. There aren’t a whole lot of options out there for testing. We used the CAT (California Acheivement Tests) for two reasons: they’re cheap and they’re available to homeschoolers. Many of the available nationally-normed tests are very expensive and/or have written their testing requirements so as to exclude homeschoolers. Which is not to say I’m particularly happy with the CAT. My daughter got six wrong out of 120 questions this year… for an 88 percentile score. Only four mistakes in the math section put her in the average category. She’s had perfect scores on some sections in previous years, only to get a 7th of 9 stanine score. (So what did one or two wrong get you? Failing?) My DH sighs every year, “But if you aren’t happy with it, just pick another test.” I’m not happy with it, and there aren’t other good options, as far as I can tell. I don’t want a longer test (the relatively short CAT is enough of a pain), but the shorter test just doesn’t allow enough room for mistakes and lapses in attention. Which circles us right back to problem #1.
A large part of the point of homeschooling is that our children are individuals, created by God, to know, love and serve Him in this world, so that they can be happy with Him forever in the next.* As individuals, they will have better and worse subjects. They will progress well one year and not so quickly the next. It happens. As long as it isn’t a long-term pattern, it’s okay. In a homeschool, they don’t have to be shoehorned into the bell curve, they can grow at what we, their parents, judge to be their proper pace. Isn’t that what we wanted for them?
You are the parent. You have to honestly assess your child’s progress, but end-of-year testing batteries aren’t really going to help, especially in the lower grades.
* (This got too long for parenthetical insertion above…) We had a Lenten mission priest one year, Fr. Larry, who asked the packed church, “Why did God make you?” Nobody answered. “Oh, come on, people, it’s one of the first questions in your catechism! Anybody? … *sigh* All right, where are the homeschoolers? You!” And the randomly indicated homeschooler dutifully recited what our touchy-feely CCD program failed to teach anybody: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world so that I can be happy with Him forever in the next.”
Which is why we also homeschool for religious education, rather than cart the kids off to CCD every Tuesday night. I wish our program was better, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s a lot like the CCD program I grew up with, half-way across the country. Truly inadequate on theology… but with crafts and colorful books.