As children head into the middle school years, many families have to deal with a new factor: testing. Discussion about testing usually circulates widely in the spring as public schools are administering standardized tests, and many homeschool families deal with needing to incorporate homeschool testing to meet state requirements.
No matter what your family’s approach to evaluation and assessment may be, the idea of testing introduces a wide array of thoughts and emotions ranging from pride in a score to frustration over what to do with the results. Fortunately, the latter can be eased simply by understanding what testing accomplishes and learning to choose tests based on the results you desire.
Homeschool Testing with Norm-Referenced Tests
The first type of test to discuss is the norm-referenced test.
All standardized tests taken in public or private schools, as well as college-entry exams such as the ACT and SAT, fall into this category.
Although there has been indication of some shift in college-entrance requirements, it is still likely that college-bound homeschoolers will have to take the ACT or SAT as part of the college and scholarship application process.
But, this is not the only way norm-referenced testing can impact homeschoolers. States where annual testing is required for homeschool students will typically require a norm-referenced test.
Let’s take a closer look at what to expect with norm-referenced testing.
To determine the standard or norm of scoring for a norm-referenced test, test developers use statistics to take the scores of a small subset of test-takers and establish a baseline of sorts by which all other test performances are measured.
When your child completes this form of test for homeschool testing purposes, their scores are measured against this “normal group,” as it is called, to determine where they rank. The normal group may be a national, regional, or even local standard, depending on the test given and the norms chosen for that test.
After each child’s test is scored, schools and/or parents receive a letter with information regarding the child’s score. Here is some of the information you may find regarding your child’s test scores, often listed by subject:
- total number of questions asked
- number of questions answered correctly
- National Percentile Rank, based on a nationally established norm pulled from a representative sample of students
- National Stanine, based on a standard of nine groups with 1-3 being below average, 4-6 being average, and 7-9 being above average
- grade equivalence, showing how the student performed based on the standard norm for grade levels and the number of months completed in that grade
standard score, or raw score
- composite score, or the average of all scores for all subjects
Score reports do not include information about which questions were missed, nor do they indicate which skills need to be improved.
Norm-referenced tests are generally used to indicate whether a student is performing below, at, or above the average performance level for a student in his or her grade. For college-bound students, these tests can be used to determine college admission eligibility, placement in regular or remedial courses, or scholarship eligibility.
For homeschool testing purposes, usage ranges from simply checking off a compliance box to actually engaging with a state department of education representative to review progress over the year (incorporating work samples from throughout the year as well), depending on the state’s homeschool laws.
Some homeschool parents voluntarily choose to implement norm-referenced homeschool testing into their school year simply to give their students experience taking this type of test and to give themselves a reference point for whether or not their child is maintaining grade appropriate progress.
Homeschool Testing with Assessment & Placement Tests
Unlike a standardized test, assessment and placement tests determine a student’s achievement level strictly based on the student’s own ability to answer a series of questions. Because these tests explore specific knowledge rather than a comparative ranking, fewer questions are required. As a result, the tests often end up being much shorter than a typical standardized or norm-referenced test.
Questions on assessment and placement tests tend to range greatly in complexity. For instance, a college student testing for exemption or advanced placement for foreign language studies will find questions well below, at, and well above his skill level. This range helps determine whether or not he has sufficiently learned enough to bypass the first semester or year of the language course.
Some of these tests intermingle simple and complex questions, while others begin simply and grow increasingly more complex. Often the tests that increase in complexity allow a tester to continue until he or she misses a certain number of questions in a row.
Most tests are scored on a percentage basis, calculating how many questions were answered correctly and how many were missed. When determining placement, this percentage is typically the only factor considered, based on the assumption that the missed questions were above the student’s level of understanding. Most of these tests do not take into consideration questions missed due to carelessness or lack of attention.
In situations where test-takers are allowed to continue testing until they miss a maximum number of questions, scoring is typically established based on the last level completed successfully rather than on a percentage of questions answered correctly.
Unlike norm-referenced tests, assessments and placement tests vary widely in their creation, usage, and reporting. There is no standardization for these tests, and they can be created and utilized in countless ways. Consequently, there is also no standardized method for reporting results.
Some of these tests show missed questions immediately, providing the correct answer before the test-taker moves on to the next question. Others show missed questions at the end of the test so a student can see what he or she missed, while still others simply report the percentage.
Assessment and placement tests are typically used to determine a student’s achievement level for placement in a grade, tutorial, level, class, or even job position.
So, how does that work with homeschool testing? Good question!
Placement tests offer a great homeschool testing option for families who are transitioning to homeschooling from a more traditional schooling option. A curriculum provider will often use specialized placement tests to help parents discover which level to buy for their student. This is also helpful for placement in fine arts, foreign language, and other elective or enrichment programs.
Assessments, meanwhile, offer a homeschool testing option that can provide more relevant feedback to parents than a typical norm-referenced test might provide.
What About Homeschool Testing with Well Planned Start?
Well Planned Start fits into the assessment/placement test category. Scoring is percentage based, and the questions help determine how well a student has learned material typically presented at his or her grade level.
Because it is an assessment instead of a norm-referenced test, Well Planned Start does not show where students rank on a national, regional, or local percentile. Consequently, it does not meet the testing qualifications for states that require annual standardized testing.
What are the advantages of using Well Planned Start?
Because you walk through the test with your student, you see immediately what questions they struggle with and which ones are simple. This process resolves the weakness of assessment tests that do not take carelessness or lack of attention into consideration.
As the parent, you score the test yourself, so you know immediately where strengths and weaknesses lie and what concepts were not grasped through the course of the year. You can also see immediately if concepts being tested differ widely from concepts explored during the year, as curricula do tend to vary somewhat in their scope.
Even if you participate in standardized testing each year, Well Planned Start provides you the feedback you need to know exactly how to work with your child in the coming year to strengthen weaknesses, fill in gaps, and build on strengths.