Assessments and The Homeschooled Student

Do your students have to take the same standardized tests as mine? If so, how much test prep do you do each week? Teacher, Revised

Testing requirements and practice for homeschooled students differ by state and by family, much like they differ by state and teacher in the public schools.

Some homeschool families may satisfy their assessment requirements by doing absolutely nothing, while others may devote a significant part of their day to test prep and/or testing itself.

I’d say we’re in the middle.

New York Homeschool Assessment Requirements

In Grades 1-3, homeschooled New Yorkers are not required to take an assessment test.  They can satisfy state requirements with a written narrative that:

  1. Uses the regulation’s required phrase: “[Child] has made adequate academic progress this year.”
  2. Lists two or three “highlights of the year”, as insurance against claims that the “narrative” isn’t really a narrative.
  3. Ends with, “See the previously submitted quarterly reports for details.”
    (Thank you, John Munson, NYHEN-Support Yahoo Forum)

This narrative is to be written by a “certified teacher, peer review panel, or other person, who has interviewed the child and reviewed a portfolio of the child’s work…[and who] shall be chosen by the parent with the consent of the superintendent.”  Parents can also prepare this narrative, with prior approval of the superintendent.

Last year I didn’t understand the nuances of this requirement, so I just filled out our End of Year Assessment, and I included the link to my son’s blog, thus effectively fulfilling the portfolio requirement.  This year, I’ll do the same, assuming that these meet the “superintendent’s approval,” unless told otherwise.

In Grades 4-8, homeschooled NY students are required to file an annual assessment from the list of approved tests. (See below.)  This is also to be administered by a person approved by the superintendent.

However, on alternate years, homeschooled students in Grades 4-8 can submit a narrative instead of an assessment test.  Thus, a homeschooled student can postpone taking a standardized test until 5th Grade.

Why bother with assessment tests if you don’t have to?

As a Third Grader, Alex is not required to take an assessment test, but I’m a proactive kind of mom.

Generally, we don’t do much testing at all.  I can tell from looking at his work product, or discussing the subject, whether, or not, he understands the material.  In recent months, we added weekly Spelling tests, but that was as an incentive to memorize the words.

Since we’re not required to file an assessment test, it’s actually a good time to investigate our options, and take these tests without any worries.

Taking Standardized Tests Anyway

In midyear, I printed out the NY State Tests (for Third Grade) that all 3rd Graders in NY public schools took in 2008.  Unlike the students in public schools who take the Language Arts Test in January, and the Mathematics Test in March, Alex took all the tests in one week.  In the home setting, it just wasn’t the stressful, big deal that it is in school.

We hadn’t done any prep, as the test itself was a preparation, and there was nothing riding on the outcome.  Not surprisingly, Alex did incredibly well on the Language Arts sections, but he missed questions on the Math sections.  I found out that he didn’t have a strong grasp of Time or Money, but those were topics he hadn’t gotten to in the 3rd Grade Singapore Math sequence. Again, not a big deal.

Last week, I pulled out the 3rd Grade Test Prep book that I ordered along with the CAT-E test, and gave it to Alex to work on independently.  He delighted in an easy week, where he got to practice his bubble-filling skills.

This week, I administered both the PASS Test and the CAT-E Test.  A bit much, I know.  This was not the highlight of our homeschool year, but now I have a good idea of what we’ll use in the future.

We decided that we did not like the PASS Test.  We found some of the questions to be poorly written, and it was a lot longer than the CAT-E, 150 vs. 100 questions.  Now, we know that when we are required to submit an assessment test, we’ll choose the CAT-E.  However, we won’t bother with this again until we have to in 5th Grade.

What We Got Out Of The Standardized Tests

It was reassuring to know that Alex was meeting state standards; actually, it’s gratifying to know that Alex is performing well beyond these minimum standards.  Even though he is doing exceedingly well, the tests also showed us that there were topics or skills that needed review, and reinforcement.

For us, the tests are a safety net.  Next year, I’ll just have Alex take the free NY State Tests at home, for our own edification.

As a homeschool educator, I’m able to use these tests in a way that never happens in the schools.  I can see the results right away, and I can use that information to help Alex strengthen weak areas.

Not a Fan of NCLB Testing

Just in case you’re wondering if I’ve suddenly had a change of heart regarding NCLB, let me be perfectly clear.

Although I’m using the same state tests that schools give to comply with the No Child Left Behind laws, I’m not a fan of mandatory testing in our public schools.

As it stands, these tests are for the benefit of the schools, not the students.  And, I don’t see the schools deriving much benefit, either.

In the public schools, teachers don’t usually see the results until late in the school year, months after they administer the test.  Although it is always possible that there is a teacher somewhere who looks at the individual student results and uses that information to help that student, that has NOT been my experience.

I’ve found that the information is not used in the current year, and it’s unlikely to be used the next.  My kids seemed to have teachers who preferred starting the year with a blank slate, with no undue influence from prior records.  I don’t know this for a fact, but my daughter’s teachers didn’t seem to know much about her at the beginning of the year.

State tests are an excellent assessment tool in the homeschool, not so much in our public schools.

These Standardized Tests Work For Me

I like using the State Tests as an assessment tool.  It works for us as it doesn’t demand much of my son, and it comforts me to have empirical evidence that he is doing at least as well as his public school peers.  If I were a more confident homeschooler, or one with years of teaching experience, I’d probably wouldn’t bother with them at all.

For now, the test results are potent ammunition when I get those pesky questions from friends and strangers asking me how do I know that my homeschooled son is doing well academically.  Well, the test results show that he is, at a minimum, “maintaining and doing as well as before.”  (See Can It Be Any Clearer? to find out why I’m laughing sardonically.)

NYHEN Homeschooling Requirements:

Standardized Test Providers For The Homeschool

State Tests

  • K-12 State Testing – Links to Sample or Past State Tests from most US States.
  • Grades 3-8 New York State Tests – Links to tests given in previous years to all students in NY public schools in the following subjects:  Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science.

Sandra Foyt

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