Why not to test young children
By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
By law, in Minnesota, homeschoolers need to start standardized testing during the school year that begins when your child is 7yrs old. As an Independent Peabody Tester I am frequently asked about testing a 5 or 6 year old "to get a baseline" or "to see where they score". I strongly discourage testing children before the required age for a number of reasons. I share them here in an effort to save families some time and money. Please consider what is truly motivating you to consider early testing and determine whether there's a better way to satisfy that urge.
Standardized testing is not a fun or particularly enjoyable way to spend one's time. Especially for young children -- why put them through such an ordeal unnecessarily? The Peabody is a more pleasant test experience than the others (and it isn't timed), but still, it is a test. Even the public schools don't test 5 and 6 year olds (if we ignore the whole pre-school screening obsession).
All standardized tests are less reliable at the younger end of the age spectrum. Mood, temperament, maturity and countless other factors come to bear on your child's test outcome. If the validity of the scores will be questionable, why test?
There is little useful information to be gained by testing young children. A more meaningful indicator of skills they've acquired would be to consult the books "What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know" and "What Your First-Grader Needs to Know" (libraries all have these), or to review the "Typical Course of Study" as published by World Book Encyclopedia on their website. These resources can be used as a checklist of skills and abilities.
A standardized test cannot diagnose learning difficulties. Test results may confirm what you already suspect (that your child is delayed in one or more areas), but it can't diagnose or offer deeper insight into why there is a delay. Professional assessment (your family doctor should be able to refer you to an appropriate professional) is the only way to pin down a specific disability or dysfunction if you aren't sure what you are dealing with, but even specialists prefer to wait until about 5th grade to see if the child will outgrow the difficulties. The book "Learning Disabilities from A to Z" is an excellent resource to help you clarify areas of strength and weakness so that you might arrive at a more useful strategy for teaching a child with a learning difficulty. Clearer understanding of learning differences is always helpful.
Standardized testing can't have the effect of "testing out" of a grade. So even if your first-grader scores at the 4th grade level in math, it doesn't mean that you can skip a year or two of curriculum. These tests ask only a random sampling of questions. You can assume that your child may move smoothly through the material from first to fourth grade, as they are able to handle the general concepts, but you cannot assume that the child has mastered all of the skills required at each grade level. Math skills build from year to year, so a solid foundation and steady skill building are critical.
If you are simply curious about your child's reading level (as a way to determine a placement level in a curriculum progression) there are more specific ways to assess the appropriate level. Standardized tests are too general to give a clear indication in specific terms. I suggest you consult with the curriculum supplier to see if there is a pre-test to establish the appropriate placement. An internet search may also turn up reading level assessment tools.
If you still feel strongly that you want your 5 or 6 year old tested, please call me so that I might further dissuade you. Your child will be 7 soon enough and from that time on you are required to test annually. There will be more than enough testing in your child's life. No need to jump the gun.
If I have managed to convince you -- take the money you have saved and spend it on something fun. This child will never be 5 (or 6) again. Savor this time! Rest assured, childhood needs no standardized measurement. Let smiles and laughter be your guide.