Testing might near the top of the list of contentious subjects among homeschoolers. Standardized testing? Regular testing on homeschooled subjects? Cognitive testing via professional tester? Whatever we choose, we’re likely to hold or opinion to that choice dear, whether we talk it about it or not. Here’s our family’s experience with testing. I’d love to hear your take on the subject.
Tests. I’ve taken a slew of them over the years. Spelling, math, science, history. Multiple choice, true/false, matching, short answer, essay. Open book, closed book, take home. PSAT, ACT, IOWA testing, CAT, GRE, and PA certification exams. As recent research shows, taking a test on material actually can aid retention, although please don’t hold me responsible for grammar and vocabulary from my high school French I course. But my tests in Honors Biology in high school? The ones that demanded I manipulate the information I studied, creating new connections? That stuff stuck, a discovery I made when teaching Biology last year. So from my sample size of one (okay, three. The boys’ Biology tests were similar to the ones I took in high school.), testing can aid retention.
For the first few years my older was at home, I avoided all testing aside from oral quizzing on math facts and spelling words. He hated to write, I hated to nag, and I really could tell what he understood and didn’t understand by simply talking with him. Go figure. But then came Algebra. I didn’t plan to change my stance on testing at that point, but I was desperate to encourage him to increase his accuracy on math problems. He understood the math itself with ease. Working a problem without an arithmetic error, sign error, or dropped number was almost impossible. So I gave him chapter tests and taught him how to check his answers. The wailing and gnashing of teeth nearly killed me. My son was miserable, too. But over time, a loooong time, he gained accuracy. Not every test. Not every problem. But with repeated torture (I mean tests) and his inborn aversion to grades under 90%, he got the idea. Four years later, he still slips up on a regular basis, but he has improved overall. And, given someday he’ll be in a situation where accuracy matters for more than just a grade or college admission, it’s been worth the work on my part to get him working on accuracy now.
Naturally, testing can improve studying skills, if a child cares at all about the grade on the test. My older does, and he’s been willing to learn some study skills to assure he can do well on the Biology and Chemistry tests I’ve been passing his way the last few years. I’d hesitant to say he’s made huge gains in study skills. I regularly remind him that studying requires engaging in material, not simply sitting in front of a book or notes. He reluctantly agrees that his more engaged study sessions have resulted in higher grades, but the message doesn’t seem to translate to consistently better studying. Magical thinking still reigns. He’ll get there, or at least that’s what I tell myself after checking a test that shows few signs on concentrated study.
Standardized tests. Every fall, when the schools in my area are prepping for weeks then testing for weeks, I’m grateful my children avoid standardized testing. And every few years, past age 8 or 9, I sign my boys us for a standardized test. Hypocrisy? Nope. I just want some information I can use, and out-of-level testing available through early use of the ACT, SAT, and EXPLORE test (an ACT-created test for 8th graders) does just that. My older son sat for the EXPLORE in third grade, and while the results largely confirmed my understanding about his strengths (English usage/grammar and math) and relative weaknesses (analysis of literature), having information in print from an objective source did this occasionally insecure homeschooling mom a world of good. My younger, who sat for the same test for the first time a few weeks back, is likely to have the opposite findings, thus reminding me again that little I’ve learned from teaching my older aids me in teaching my younger. Ah, well. Last year, my older moved on to the ACT, which he’ll take for a second time this fall. I’m hoping to see some improvement in the reading analysis areas (again relatively weak on the ACT previously) since we’ve concentrated more on those this year. Most importantly, my kids know how to fill in those bubble sheets. Now that’s a life skill gained. (For more information on out-of-level testing, read this from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.)
IQ Tests. Yes, my children have taken IQ tests. Not to satisfy their parents’ curiosity or gain entrance into prestigious nursery schools. Both times, we plunked down those not-so-insignificant dollars to better understand our kids’ rather uneven development and, for the older, to help figure out why our bright, happy child was growing depressed and discouraged in school. In his case, the test answered the question clearly, giving us an understanding of the degree of mismatch between his learning environment and his cognitive skills. No, my kids don’t know their scores, at least not now. I’m not sure how that would serve either one of them. Both boys understand the bell curve, however, and where their scores lie, discussions necessary when they noted the ways their learning was different from that of many of their peers, a bigger issue with my older while he was in school. He’d long felt out of place, and we felt he deserved an age appropriate explanation. IQ tests have their limitations and problems, but, used properly by the examiner and the parents, can aid in understanding kids who learn at a different pace than their age-mates. Of course the tests tell nothing of what a person CAN do or WILL do, and don’t speak to drive, determination, or dedication, but they offer information that, for their father and I, helped us make choices about their education. Plus, the kids enjoyed taking them. Hey, games with an adult giving you their undivided attention? What’s not to like? (For more information on IQ testing and gifted children, here’s a bit more from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.)
Tests. Standardized tests. IQ tests. That’s our family’s experience with testing. Your turn. Do you test your children formally or informally on homeschool material? Do they take standardized tests for the state or for your own needs? Have you used formal IQ testing? Most importantly, why have you made those choices, and how have they informed your homeschooling?