Words by Kristin Lehman of Hewitt Learning, who is graciously sponsoring this post.
Testing is like a trip to the dentist — necessary but painful and unwanted for many learners. Subject and unit tests are bad enough, but standardized testing (and its high-stake, lifetime ramifications) can take this angst to a whole new level.
Standardized testing developed and grew in popularity during the Industrial Revolution . As companies were looking for assembly line workers, schools began their quest to educate young minds. In an attempt to make sure everyone had access to a good education, teachers followed the worldview of the day and grouped all students into the same classes.
As our world moved from the age of industrialization to one of information, problems with the standardized testing approach became quickly evident. Test anxiety is a real and documented barrier for many students. Research has found a significant relationship between levels of test anxiety and a change in scores . Among other issues is that many abilities are necessary for a well-rounded and successful life that cannot be graded or assessed on a standardized exam. A test does not yet exist that can accurately quantify skills like creativity or divergent thinking. Children are not assembly-line products. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, gifts and barriers, experiences, and knowledge base.
If there are so many issues with standardized testing, why test at all? What is the reasoning behind why some states require it? Homeschooling parents reason they teach their children every day and know how much they have learned. Why is another test needed to tell what is already known? These questions are fair.
Five Reasons to Test
- Whether given frequently or yearly, tests are a tool used to identify strengths and weaknesses in each unique learner.
- Tests can identify holes in student understanding and corresponding gaps in curriculums.
- Tests can include written assessments, checklists, portfolios, charts, or standardized tests.
- While testing cannot assess soft skills as well as some other methods of evaluation, it does highlight where a student has been, what they know now, and where they need to grow.
- Standardized testing is beneficial to examine where a learner is by putting a student’s skills into a bigger picture of a larger (nation-wide) population giving insight to the teacher/parent/student for future lesson planning.
How to Choose the Right Tests
Finding the appropriate assessment tool to give the needed feedback is a challenge. There are several questions you want to ask as you look for the proper test:
Does my learner struggle with test anxiety?
Most students benefit from untimed tests, though students with learning disabilities or test anxiety see the most significant benefit . You may want to consider the untimed options.
What if my student is not “on-grade” in every subject?
Almost all standardized tests use the same questions for all students in a specific grade level. Depending on their proficiency in a subject, students often get frustrated and give up, leading to the test not providing a clear picture of the student’s abilities. Likewise, when students take a test that is too easy for them, they do not get a chance to show their true abilities. You may want to look for an option that groups learners based on skills or levels in each subject rather than by grade/age.
Does my student do better with paper and pen or computer?
Studies are still underway, but at least one has found that students who take a test on paper do significantly better than those on a computer .
Where is my child most comfortable?
Research has shown that students may find it easier to recall information when testing in a similar learning environment to where they typically learn . So, accommodating a student’s testing environment can benefit their ultimate results.
How fast do I need the results?
Online tests often return results quicker than traditional paper and pencil tests.
Ultimately, you want to choose the best test or assessment that fits your family. So, keeping this reasoning and these questions in mind can help you navigate the testing waters more smoothly.
Hewitt Learning is the home of the PASS test (a standardized assessment designed for homeschoolers), the award-winning Lightning Literature curriculum, and several programs including Amani at Home and the Independent Innovator Challenge. Learn more at hewittlearning.org.
 “The Relationship Between Test Anxiety and Standardized Test Scores” https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/dissertations/2258/