Do you remember your days in school when you had a test or a quiz? The stress, the studying, the worrying? Test-taking is often a child’s least favorite part about school. Learning can be fun, but studying and taking tests rarely is. So, as a homeschooling parent, do you have to give your kids tests? The short answer is no. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can instruct and assess your children as you see fit. The longer and more complicated answer is kind of. Unfortunately, you and your kids cannot fully escape testing. And maybe that is not such a bad thing.
Depending on the state in which you live, you may be required to evaluate your children to prove that they are making adequate progress. Evaluation, though, does not necessarily mean testing. Evaluation simply means showing that your children are progressing. This could be demonstrated by a standardized test score, a written evaluation, a portfolio of work, or by other methods. Before you make any decisions about testing, speak with someone from your state’s department of education to find out what your requirements are. Even if you do not have to show standardized test scores, your written evaluations may need to come from an educational professional rather than yourself.
The Benefits of Testing
Before you poo-poo the idea of testing your kids entirely, consider the fact that testing can have some real educational benefits. It’s true that in public education, testing has gotten out of hand. Many teachers are now forced to teach to numerous standardized tests because politicians insist on tying their pay to student scores. As a homeschooler, you are free of the chains of that burden, but you should not totally eliminate tests.
As a practical matter, your children probably cannot avoid tests altogether. They may be required to take intermittent state or national standardized tests. If they hope to go to college, there will be the entrance exams and the ACT and SAT. And, of course, once in college, testing will be a major part of their grades. If they are not prepared for these tests, they will not be fully prepared to be successful.
Although stressing and studying on a regular basis and relying on the results of tests to inform their grades is not ideal, some amount is beneficial. Going through the pressure of needing to perform on an exam is a good learning experience, just not one that you need to give your kids every week. A better way to evaluate your children is to give them a variety of assessments. If you have one child who responds well to test taking, stretch his abilities by assigning him test alternatives. For those kids who struggle with tests, provide alternatives, but also force them to work on their testing skills so that they can be successful later.
Preparing for Required Standardized Tests
Your state may require your children to take periodic standardized achievement tests and when they are college bound, they will probably need to take the ACT or SAT. Even if you did not use very much traditional testing in your homeschooling process, you can still prepare your kids adequately for these tests. You should be able to find practice exams for any standardized test. Some you can find online for free, while for others you will need to purchase an official practice copy. Books and software programs are available for nearly every standardized test to help your kids practice their test-taking skills and to develop the knowledge needed for these tests. Start practicing early and set aside some time each week for the task. Breaking it up into small study periods is much more effective than cramming a couple of days ahead of the test.
Regardless of what your state or colleges require, as a homeschooling teacher, you need to know that your children are learning and progressing. This means that you need to assess them. You can use tests that you create yourself or tests that you purchased along with a curriculum, but you can also use many alternatives. The choice is entirely yours! Here are some ideas for alternatives to tests that will still give you a good idea of what your children know. If you need to provide evidence of your child’s progression for the state, keep a record of these activities by taking careful notes on the knowledge they are demonstrating or even by recording them.
- Oral exams. An oral exam is just like a test, except that your child gets to tell you what she knows rather than writing it down or filling in bubbles on a scoring sheet. You can assess your children one at a time this way or as a group. You ask the questions and they answer. To keep a record, you can mark down whether they answered the questions correctly or not. Be sure to include questions that require them to give lengthy answers as well as short yes or no and true or false questions. A variety of question types will allow them the opportunity to demonstrate both the depth and the breadth of their knowledge.
- Presentations. Another fantastic way to evaluate your child is to have him give a presentation that demonstrates what he knows about a subject. Tell him to think of it as a lesson. He is the teacher, and he needs to instruct his audience about his topic. This is a great chance to use technology. He can make a video presentation or use a computer and projector to show slides that he creates for the project. It also is a great way to practice public speaking. Speaking to an audience is terrifying for many people, but with practice it doesn’t have to be. Consider bringing in neighbors, other homeschoolers, or family members to be the audience.
- Be the teacher. When your child can teach a subject to someone else, she really knows her stuff. Allow her to teach her younger siblings to show you what she knows. For instance, to demonstrate her knowledge of plants, she can create a lesson plan geared towards the younger kids. This could include instruction, an outdoor excursion to identify plants, drawing plants, and ultimately a test that she creates for the younger kids, complete with an answer key.
- Subject-specific projects. There are many, many ways that you can assess your child’s knowledge that depend upon the subject. For instance, to demonstrate knowledge in science, she can create experiments and demonstrations to show to younger siblings. For a foreign language, your children can work together to create and perform skits using the vocabulary they have learned. For history, they can create journals that describe what life was like and the events that occurred in a certain time period. Creativity is essential when coming up with these types of assessments. Be creative, and encourage your children to be creative as well. They may even come up with ideas of their own to show you what they know about a subject.
- Create a portfolio. A portfolio is a practical way to demonstrate knowledge and ability. Artists, graphic designers, advertisers, teachers, and other career professionals use portfolios to get jobs. Have your children create a portfolio of the work they have completed in a certain subject area. Ask them to pick out their best work, which could include artwork, papers, reports, videos of demonstrations and presentations, and anything else they feel shows that they know their subject. Work with them to select the best of the best and to present it in a way that looks professional.