I was also not sure how I could get the required testing accomplished for multiple children of varying ages and grades without spending huge amounts of time attending multiple tests, and without dropping young ones off and leaving them out from under my care. Here the Lord brought us a beautiful, simple, inexpensive solution. *smile*
I'll share with you:
- Why we love standardized testing at home
- How we do it
Why we love standardized testing at home
By doing our testing at home I can simply order a test for each individual child and test them at home, and receive professional, thorough, legal test results as a result.
I learned from other homeschooling friends of a website where I could order standardized testing and implement those at home. It was very good news to me the first year that we were legally required to begin testing, when our oldest daughter was 8-years-old, because I desired for her first experience with testing to be successful and peaceful for her. I wanted her scores to accurately reflect what she had learned, and for her experience to be positive and enjoyable to hopefully establish this as a pattern for the rest of her school career. And, these tests would be the main proof of our homeschooling success should a court room ever need to view them if the quality of our home educating was ever in question. These test scores are the only evidence of homeschooling required in Washington State, from age 8 on up. We have tested annually at home for the past 8 years and I am planning on continuing to do so for the rest of the children's homeschooling career.
These test scores have also blessed me personally in a wonderful way. Before we began testing I really had no way to evaluate for sure and thoroughly whether or not our children were keeping up with what would be expected of them in the school system (or if, heaven forbid, they should ever need to enter that system as a result of disaster in the family). So when I desired to take some time off I could not do so with confidence; and when I needed to take some time off due to difficult pregnancies or having a newborn at home I felt so afraid that I was doing the children a disservice by having them miss some school. But after we began testing I could see that our children's academic knowledge was soaring, and taking the necessary or desired time was just fine. Their scores reflected excellence in academics despite time taken off. Now academic achievement is certainly not the only measure of quality homeschooling, or even the best measure; it's the children's spiritual well-being and character that are most important. But I'm just talking in this post about the legal requirements and how we implement them in a way that blesses our family and fulfills the state's requirements to the best of our ability. And it is a very pleasant way to test as well! *smile*
Another thing we like about testing at home is that our scores and homeschooling progress (or not) is kept private and not shared with the government unless we choose to share it. We do not need their involvement and certainly do not want the government's interference. We have the scores required by law as proof of quality home educating, but they are for our use alone.
We can also do our standardized testing whenever we finish our curriculum for the year; on our own time frame, not according to when the tests are offered somewhere else regardless of whether or not the children have even finished the curriculum or not.
How we do it
First, I select the dates on our calendar that will best suit our family's current schedule. Since we usually school through June and take July and August off for summer, we usually test in mid to late July. Enough time to have a little break from having just completed our school year, but not so much of a break that the children get "rusty" in their academics. We think that testing after a short break also provides a more accurate result, measuring what the child actually knows and has internalized. I choose to test one child at a time so that I can give them my full attention if they need it, or for encouragement, or just reassurance. They always have a mixture of enjoying their testing time with me, and a little nervousness as well. *smile*
As part of our normal weekly schedule all year, one day per week, I take some of our children over to their grandparent's house to spend the afternoon, so that is a natural time for me to test one of the children at home. When some of the siblings are gone it's quieter and the testing child is able to focus well without distraction. We put the littlest children down for naps and then jump right in to testing.
The testing only takes either 2 1/2 hours or about 5 hours depending upon which testing company and testing style we've used. So the child has easily completed their testing within that one day which is nice.
I try to make the children's testing experience one that they actually look forward to, and it's worked for the most part. *smile* They wear their comfy slippers if they desire, have some yummy iced tea handy (or cough drops and tissues if necessary), and take breaks between test portions for a little sibling comic relief or just some fresh air outside. They are relaxed being in their own regular learning environment that is so familiar. Their mind, then, is free to recall quickly and easily without being worried about outside circumstances or other people, and there is no peer pressure either. If a child is nervous I also reassure them that the standardized testing is really testing the teacher - me - not so much them. It is testing what I have taught them that year. If they do not know some of the material that is not their fault, it is my fault; the student is only required to do a good job of telling the test what they have been taught. This is always a comfort to our children.
We have used two different testing companies and two separate methods of testing: filling in "bubble sheets" on paper, and testing online.
I purchased the CAT (California Achievement Test - even though we do not live in the state of California this is a common and acceptable test offered through out the country) through the Family Learning Organization. We used this test for the first 7 years of testing. I ordered the tests the week before the date I needed it by, and the company requires it to be returned to them for grading within to weeks (which does require a trip to the post office). We have always completed the test in one day easily, but technically we could have done it a little each day for up to two weeks if we chose to.
The cost of a FLO test is $43.00 per student regardless of age or grade. Older students complete the test independently with a parent's supervision as the moderator. The tests for our younger children (1st and 3rd grades) require more moderator involvement to read the directions to them and do the sample questions with them prior to beginning each section. This is not because a 3rd grader cannot read it for themselves of course, I think its just to alleviate that part of the testing so the student only needs to work on the test itself and not understanding how to take the test as well. So I have my own iced tea handy as well, and a good book and simply and pleasantly camp out beside our son or daughter and read while they test between the times when I'm needed. It's very nice really. *smile*
The FLO also offers pre-testing materials which we did use for our first student during her first year. This was valuable in teaching her how to take the test (how to fill in a bubble sheet, when to continue on to the next page and when to stop, when to make educated guesses and when to skip a question, etc.) before she was expected to do so. It was valuable, but each parent would need to determine for themselves whether or not to do this step. It's certainly not always necessary and we never used it for subsequent students, I just knew what to make sure they understood prior to testing and told them myself. Plus the pre-testing materials take several weeks of work pages to complete.
We liked this test fine and it's always been very reliable. However the filling in of bubble sheets can be tedious and much more time consuming. So when I discovered this year that some friends of ours do standardized testing through a company online, I researched that eagerly and we chose to try out this method for our children this year. We were thrilled with the results, and I feel that there are several advantages to using this next method.
I purchased this year's tests for our two 9th graders and our 3rd grader (the rest of the children are 7-years-old and younger) through Christian Liberty. The cost is only $25.00 per student (compared to $43 for the FLO test), and I can order it the day we are ready to test rather than needing to plan a week in advance (although I chose to purchase the day prior to testing to be sure we would be ready with the code needed to take the test online). The actual test itself takes only 2-3 hours (compared to 5 hours), and it is all done on the computer with no bubble sheets to fill in or mail back. We also then receive the test results via email within about 1 minute of having completed the test (rather than having to wait 2 weeks for results to come back in the mail), I did not have to get copies made of our student's test before mailing the original back to FLO (in case it were to get lost in the mail), and we skip the trip to the post office. Good, good all around! *smile* There were only a couple of slight possible draw backs with the online Christian Liberty test, but they turned out to be no big deal for us at all.
One possible draw back is that Christian Liberty uses the 1970's version of the CAT test, rather than a more current version, because they point out that it holds students to a more reasonable standard of education. It is not "dumbed down", testing at a level far below what was expected in years past. So parents can determine if a child is going to be actually well-prepared for further education and for success in life, rather than receiving a false sense of security in high test scores from a more current version that is so dumbed down that it may look like a student is excelling when in actuality they are lacking some substantial skills.
We initially questioned whether or not we would like to use Christian Liberty's 1970's version because we desired for our children to be compared to other children of their same age or grade so that if our test scores were ever shown in court it would be an accurate comparison. But we decided that the likelihood of this ever happening is slim-to-none, and if it ever did happen it would be very easy to explain. And the benefits of using this online version outweighed this consideration of which version it was. We decided to go ahead and try it for this year and if we didn't like it we knew we could always go back to the Family Learning Organization.
The only other possible drawback was that the amount of time allotted for each portion of the test was significantly less for Christian Liberty's online version. But this turned out to not be an issue either. With the Family Learning Organization our children only used half of the time available (for example, 2o minutes of the 45 allotted); with Christian Liberty they took the tests leaving between 1 and 20 minutes to spare. Not quite so much margin, but it turned out to be irrelevant. I read many reviews about the Christian Liberty tests prior to using them and I never heard a parent say that not enough time was offered for their children to complete the tests, unless a child had a significant disability such as Down Syndrome, in which case time limits may not work as well. One of our 9th grade daughters did not quite complete some of the math within the allotted time frame frame, but her scores were still good and her scores were at the same percentage point as in previous years. Plus I know where her skill level is for math in her curriculum, so this test reflected pretty accurately but I still know that she's actually better at math than what was reflected, but she gets flustered while testing in the math sections and it's never been her strongest testing area. Our 3rd grader, however, easily completed the math sections within the allotted time frames.
Blessings on your testing efforts!
Family Learning Organization - Testing on paper
Christian Liberty - Testing online or on paper
Book: 100 Top Picks For Homeschool Curriculum, by Cathy Duffy ($18.81 from Amazon)
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