Standardized Tests Can Benefit Homeschoolers
By Wendy Coykendall
Standardized tests can help homeschoolers meet regulations, evaluate progress, & learn valuable skills.
By and large, we homeschoolers don’t like tests.
Whether we subscribe to an unschooling model or follow a rigorously structured classical curriculum, we all choose an alternative education because we want the best for our kids. We know them better than any school teacher could. We know where they’re gifted and where they struggle, and we want an alternative to the one-size-fits-all mentality that often pervades public school classrooms. The philosophy that gauges students’ educational success by their ability to tick off a list of facts is precisely what we are seeking to avoid.
Learning is so much more than rote memorization. It’s as much about becoming honest and perceptive and articulate as it is about reading comprehension and algebra. It’s about becoming good humans with strong character, prepared for success in careers and relationships. Triumph in the testing room is not the point.
So why do I believe that testing is necessary for homeschoolers?
For starters, independent testing is necessary for meeting many state-level educational codes. Some regulation of education is inevitable, and it’s important to know what role testing plays in your state’s requirements.
Each state has different rules for home schools. These vary widely. Many are undemanding: I live in one of the 11 states that do not require that I inform the local school district of my choice to homeschool. Only 33 states specify any mandated subjects for homeschool students, and only 11 of these have a system to verify that the mandatory subjects are taught. Periodic assessments or evaluations are required for homeschooled students in 23 states. Many of these assessments carry no ramifications based on performance. In such cases, there’s no risk of government interference if a student tests poorly, and homeschooled test takers are compliant regardless of their students’ scores.
Independent assessments can help you compare your students’ academic abilities with their peers’. This is important not as a competitive benchmark but as a way to assess students’ academic progress and readiness for college.
As a homeschool parent intimately involved with the education of my kids, I know they are learning, and I can track their development broadly. But forward progress is no guarantee that they are keeping up with their peers at public or private school. Testing is a useful way to confirm that they are on track.
It also provides me with tools to evaluate the successes of my chosen curriculum and methods. I’m able to see improvement in each of my student’s subjects. Testing can show me my own weak spots as an instructor and provide direction—whether I need to find a math tutor next year, or whether my kitchen lab work is helping my children grasp the concepts in their science lessons. Testing is a quantifiable, tangible way for me to affirm that my children are actually learning as much as they should be.
Teaching Important Life Skills
Familiarity with testing allows students to feel a sense of accomplishment. My daughter’s very first (and very casual) spelling test stressed her out. She vastly underperformed, mostly because she was nervous at the concept of being evaluated. But by her third test, she was eager and excited to prove to me how many words she could spell perfectly.
Testing is inevitable throughout life—not just in high school or in college, but also in the workplace. The more familiar my children are with evaluation processes, the better. Students unfamiliar with formal evaluation may lack the capacity for test taking they will need later on. If the very idea of being evaluated negatively affects performance, some familiarity might provide needed confidence.
A Better Standardized Test for Homeschoolers
When my children are old enough, I plan to have them take the Classic Learning Test. It meets all the requirements of standardized testing but boasts several advantages over its competitors. For one thing, the first two CLT tests—the CLT8 and CLT10—can be taken at home and used to benchmark individual progress throughout high school. But the most exciting quality of the Classic Learning Test, to my mind, is its content.
The Classic Learning Test uses content that will be familiar to students from many schooling backgrounds. Two thirds of the reading and writing passages are drawn from great thinkers and writers of the western tradition, such as Dante, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Tolkien. Students from a broad spectrum of curricula and educational philosophies will find the CLT a complementary assessment of their education.
Just as homeschooling provides an alternative to public education, the Classic Learning Test gives parents and students an alternative to big-box standardized testing suites. We homeschool families choose an alternative education for our children for a myriad of reasons. If you’re like me, you want your children’s education to be both holistic and individualized, and the CLT supports that. By incorporating content from great authors and texts in the liberal arts tradition, CLT reinforces the same ideas that you are teaching. It is an essential tool that will not only track individual progress and learning, but will also provide a familiarity with evaluation that will serve students well throughout their lives.