Testing - know your options
by Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
We are all familiar with the requirement in Minnesota.... homeschoolers are required to test annually using a Nationally norm-referenced, standardized test. Most of us know the small assortment of tests... the #2 pencils and ovals to fill in on the answer sheet. It isn't something we look forward to. It is just something we are required to do. (If you are homeschooling in another state you'll need to familiarize yourself with any testing requirement. The testing information in this article may still help you choose a test option).
Knowing your options within the testing requirement can make testing less stressful for everyone. It also allows you to choose the testing format that puts your child's best foot forward and gives you the most useful results.
Keep in mind that NONE of the standardized tests are in any way correlated to your curriculum or educational philosophy. These exams cannot possibly assess how well your child learned the material you covered this past year. All standardized tests are based on some assumed progression of skills and topics taught in Public Schools across the country. AT BEST a standardized test can simply tell you how your child compares to their public school peers when asked the same questions. That said, let's look at the choices available in the testing arena.
First, there is no statutory deadline other than "annually". You are not required to test in the spring. You are not required to test when the school district does. You are not REQUIRED to test at any particular time at all. A growing number of homeschool families are choosing to test in the fall. They get that testing requirement out of the way so it isn't hanging over their heads all year. Fall testing also gives you an indication of what skills have “stuck” with your child, even through the summer months, and which skills may have faded. Other families are opting to test in the winter, just after the holidays when their family schedule lulls which gives them time to use the test results to focus attention on weaker areas with the remaining half of the school year. Bottom line: It is up to you when you test. You can choose, and you can change your mind from year to year. Test when it makes sense for your family and your homeschooling schedule.
Secondly, not all exams are timed. Choosing an untimed testing format relieves some of the tension surrounding the test experience. Research on test scores has also shown that girls, as a group, perform better when they are not timed during test taking. A child who reads more slowly, or who likes to contemplate their choices more thoroughly will also do better without the pressure of being timed.
Finally, not all tests are the multiple-choice, multiple-hour, pencil-fests that we all grew up with. The Peabody Individual Achievement Test is a briefer (about 60 minutes), untimed, oral format test. It is nationally norm-referenced and standardized, so it meets the requirements of the MN statute. But the Peabody's advantages go far beyond its conversational tone and straightforward wording. This assessment also allows children to rise to their natural level of ability. A fourth grade student can score in the Eighth grade range in mathematics, even if their reading skills are closer to their own grade level. The test is immediately scored. No need to wait 4-8 weeks for results. The Peabody must be administered by a trained examiner (there are several around the state), so it is necessary to make arrangements in advance. Some Examiners test only in their own homes, others will come to your location, and testing can even be done over skype. The Peabody assesses K-12, and is normed for use at any time of year. This means that your child's scores will be compared to a test group from the same time of year, not to children who took the test at the end of their school year.
With its oral format and answer selection cards, the Peabody is certainly the test of choice for any child who struggles with reading. Its shorter time frame makes it a more bearable format for children with attention difficulties and for younger children, in general. The open format of this assessment also gives more meaningful results for children who are learning well above their grade level.
For more information or to schedule a session using the Peabody Assessment, contact an Independent Peabody Examiner. I keep a listing statewide, so feel free to email me for contact info. I’m happy to test for you over skype if you aren’t in the Rochester Mn area.
Some Additional Points to Consider About Testing
Your testing fee is eligible for reimbursement from your school district. Textbooks, workbooks and annual testing fees are eligible for this reimbursement up to a maximum yearly amount per child, the amount varies from year to year). You need to indicate your intention to claim the reimbursement in the fall of the year as you do your other fall paperwork, and you may need to submit receipts prior to the end of your district's fiscal year (April/May). Submitting a receipt does not require submitting test scores.
Ordering tests from your school district... Some districts will order a standardized test for you (some will further require your child to take the test at the school). Keep in mind that the results are customarily mailed to the address from which the test was ordered. For homeschoolers this could mean that your results will be sent to the school district and not to you directly.
Who should have the results? Nothing in the state statute says that your child's scores are to be shared with anyone. Test scores are for your use as one component in assessing your child’s homeschooling progress.
What if my child scores poorly? Nothing in the statute can infringe on your parental right to homeschool your child in Minnesota, even if they are struggling. The Statute says that if the results of the assessment indicates that the child's performance on the total battery score is at or below the 30th percentile or one grade level below the performance level for children of the same age/grade, the parent must obtain additional evaluation of the child's abilities and performance for the purpose of determining whether the child has learning problems. Therefore, if you already know that your child has learning difficulties (developmental, physical, emotional or due to illness, injury or other condition, regardless of formal diagnosis) there is no further requirement. You may want to be sure that you document any "adaptive" approaches or materials you may be using to accommodate your child's learning style or difficulty. By "document" I mean make a record of it in your own files for possible future reference or use. If you have a concern about your child's learning (regardless of test scores), you are entitled to access school specialists for a formal assessment, but these types of assessments are also available through your pediatrician or a child psychologist in private practice. You are not limited to the school district for such assessment and many homeschoolers prefer to remain outside the public school's domain for such services.