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Monday, August 28, 2017

Do You Need Standardized Testing in Your Homeschool?

As the summer comes to a close in our part of the world, many folks are embarking upon a fresh, new homeschool year or just beginning their journey in home education.  Some of them are wondering, “What about standardized testing? Do I need to test my kids each year? Do I need to have them take tests regularly so they’ll be ready for college entrance exams when the time comes? Do I need proof that they have learned what they need to learn?”

Do You Need Standardized Testing in Your Homeschool?The short answer is: it depends.

If your state requires you to submit standardized test scores, then you will need to comply with your local laws.

If your custody agreement with your former spouse stipulates that you need to prove yearly progress and you’ve agreed upon using standardized tests as your meter stick, you will need to comply with the terms of your agreement.

But most homeschoolers can forgo standardized testing, at least until it comes time to take the SAT or ACT for college admissions (and many will be able to skip it then also, if applying to an “exam optional” school).

Standardized testing does not fit very well into our family’s homeschool philosophy. We are more concerned with helping our kids reach their full potential than with having them meet an arbitrary standard.

Since our state does not require testing (our evaluations are through a portfolio), we don’t choose to do it. We, as a family, have decided that it would be an unnecessary expenditure of time and other resources (and my state offers testing for free to homeschoolers).

I’ve seen other homeschoolers make the following arguments in support of regular testing:

  1. We test each year so that we know how our children are progressing and to make sure that they are learning what they need to learn.
  2. We test to prove our results to the naysayers (friends, family, acquaintances) who think we are crazy for homeschooling.
  3. We test because our umbrella or charter or accredited program requires that we test.
  4. We test because we want our kids to be used to testing so that when it’s time to take the SAT/ACT they will know how to do it and won’t freak.

These are all good points, so I want to address each of them and why none of them affect our family’s decision. My goal is not to argue anybody into my way of seeing things, so if you test and stand by testing, this is just some food for thought.

1. We test each year so that we know how our children are progressing and to make sure that they are learning what they need to learn.

If you are with your child nearly every minute of the day and are working with her on the three Rs (plus the extras), you probably already know how she is progressing. You know if she has trouble reading, if she hasn’t development automaticity on her math facts, or if she looks at you like you have two heads when you ask her to summarize an article.

Now, it is true that when you are “in it,” sometimes the progress is so very slow that you don’t notice it when it’s happening. This is why I strongly recommend keeping a portfolio for each child (even if you aren’t required to) and taking pictures of them through the year. You’ll look back on those moments and realize how far your child has come.

But what if they aren’t learning what they need to learn? What if there are gaps?

There will be gaps, no matter what you do. There would be gaps if they attended school also. I know, I know…it’s frightening, right? You are holding your child’s future in your hands.

If yearly testing (or every other year testing or whatever) gives you peace of mind, by all means---do it! Your peace of mind, Mama? Totally worth it.

Just keep in mind that standardized testing is just one yard stick against which to measure your children’s progress. It will measure their knowledge of what is on the test and that is all. And kids don’t develop in a straight line, either. They have ups and downs (just like the rest of us). So if they don’t do as well one year as you anticipated, try to keep things in perspective. Test results are just one small piece of the overall picture.

2. We test to prove our results to the naysayers (friends, family, acquaintances) who think we are crazy for homeschooling.

I feel for anyone who finds themselves in that position.  Not everyone in my life is 100% on the side of homeschooling. I’ve gotten my share of brochures for Catholic high schools and such from well-meaning family members. I know it was done out of love, but I also ignored it.  We choose not to “prove” ourselves, but rather we just try to lead the life that God leads us to live. My hope is that my children will grow into intelligent, caring, and accomplished human beings.  They show that in how they live their lives, not in how highly they score on a test.

3. We test because our umbrella or charter or accredited program requires that we test.

I am not in this position, but that’s at least in part because I would not choose to use an umbrella, charter, or program that required standardized testing unless I had no other choice. If you have no choice, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

4. We test because we want our kids to be used to testing so that when it’s time to take the SAT/ACT they will know how to do it and won’t freak.

I’d prefer to not have my kids freak every year over a test. I am doubtful that spending that much time on testing will reap a big enough dividend in the high school years to be worth the time, money, and anxiety. I suspect that as kids get older they will naturally do better in a testing environment whether they have practicing it or not.

I admit this is only a theory, though. Have you ever noticed how when you try to teach your child something he isn’t quite ready for…it takes a really long time for him to get it? But if you wait a bit, he may pick it up right away. Or not…every kid is different.

This is purely anecdotal, I have no studies or anything to back me up…my oldest child took the SAT for the first time this summer. He had never taken a single standardized test in his life. He had not even taken the PSAT (shhhh…that was not my doing, he thought he didn’t want to go to college last year, so he refused to sign up for it).

So, about a week before the exam, he did a practice test to familiarize himself with the timing, the format, how to bubble the bubbles. All the stuff.

Guess what? He didn’t bomb the test. Far, far from it. He would not have made National Merit Finalist, but he was pretty close.

This is the child who would freak over a 2-minute timed math drill when he was in elementary. He couldn’t stand timers, so we banned timers.

He had no trouble taking a timed exam. No trouble at all. 

Obviously, your mileage may vary. I only tell you this story to let you know that if your other homeschool buddies are saying you’re crazy for not getting your kids accustomed to testing…you’re not.

I suspect that if I had tested my son every year, he might have developed a deep aversion to testing and it may have made it harder for him to do well on the test. Because that’s just the kind of person he is. As it was, he knew it was just something he needed to do, so he did it. He may even do it again to see if he can raise his score a bit.

I’m sure there are other reasons that homeschoolers test that I haven’t considered…Do you test? Why or why not? Leave me a comment. Rolling on the floor laughing


  1. Good post, love this sharing so much, thank you!

  2. Love this post.... you are one wise mama!! I tested my oldest at the end of fifth grade because I was scared to death of Middle School, that I hadn't prepared him well. He scored average for English skills, but way way way above average for reading comprehension and every other single area. I didn't worry about tests again until he thought he wanted to try out for the Naval Academy. Got a nomination but eliminated for a medical reason. I have noticed that my kids who were able to score high on the SAT had more opportunities for scholarship money, but if they go to the Community College first, it's not even required, and you save money there too. My fourth went to public school for 10th - 12th and I noticed all his high honors and AP classes spent a portion of class time doing SAT prep, so I thought I would try it this year in my history/lit class at co-op. I am intrigued by the possibilities of scoring well on the CLT and earning scholarship money for a "Newman Guide" Catholic College. They recommend doing practice SATs to prepare. I thought it would be worth a try. I'm only sad none of my kids are benefiting from my class. LOL. and I so enjoy sharing one of yours!!

    1. High SAT/ACT scores can definitely open up scholarship money---definitely true. They can also make applying for college easier as a high test score can help to "validate" a homeschool transcript. But you are right---community college is another alternative to jumping to a 4-year school and can also lighten the financial burden. I do think there's great value in doing prep for those entrance exams. If I had it to do over, my son would have done more prep, he would have taken the exam one more time, and he would have taken the CLT. To some extent, success on the exam is about strategy rather than knowing stuff. My husband used to do SAT prep tutoring. I need to write a post about that whole gauntlet sometime. Thanks for stopping by. :)


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