Though standardized testing might not always be the best method of assessing a child, sometimes, as homeschoolers, we find ourselves without a choice. Currently, we are in a homeschool situation that requires regular testing. It’s taught me a lot, about myself, about my kids, about the pros and cons of standardized testing. Whether you are deciding if testing is right for you or trying to make the best of a state-mandated testing policy, here are some pros and cons of standardized testing that may help you gain a little perspective.
The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing for homeschoolers
Cons of Standardized Testing
I love the emphasis that learning styles have received, in both homeschool and public education. I love that we are appreciating differences in learning and equipping kids to understand how they learn. But the great irony is that while we are making strides in educating according to the different learning styles, we are still assessing in one style—the standardized test. Consequently, my number one reason for disliking testing is that it is, more often than not, an inaccurate reflection of what a child knows.
Tests are long, boring, and intimidating. Children zone out, or don’t test well. If the material is asked in a way the child is not familiar, he may answer incorrectly even if he knows the material. Tests hurt a child’s self-image, especially if that child is already insecure about certain learning struggles. And honestly, nothing kills a love for learning like struggling through a standardized test. I’ve seen smart children (including my own) feel like they are losers or stupid because of a less than gratifying score. For all the time we spend praising differences, standardized tests reduce a child’s learning to a single line on the graph. And not every child is going to follow that graphed trajectory. We don’t expect them to be on the same trajectory for height or weight at the doctor’s office. The growth of their bodies is expected to vary, but the growth of their brain is supposed to march along the same upward incline as everyone else.
Pros of Standardized Testing
My kids have struggled and excelled on standardized tests at varying points in time. Being in a situation that requires testing has been a growing process for all of us. But as my kids struggle through the emotional roller coaster of testing and test scores and national averages and learning trajectories, etc., we’ve learned a lot, too. Sometimes, the tests confirm struggles I felt we had, learning gaps I was pretty sure were there. Sometimes, a test will help a homeschool parent see a struggle she wasn’t aware of at all. But perhaps the greatest advantage to testing, the one I remind my kids about each time testing comes around, is the practice and preparation for life. For better or for worse, our culture is a testing culture. Driving tests, college entrance tests, college midterm and final exams, further education for job training, performance and certification testing—bottom line, our children will grow up to be adults who have to take tests.
If your kids are anything like mine, they have a lot of testing anxieties. Both my older kids have an ADHD diagnosis, my daughter has anxiety and dyslexia, and both panic any time you say “timed” anything. We’ve worked for years on the “timed” test anxieties, and made great strides. Now, in one sense, we are stepping up that test anxiety with standardized testing and scores. I tell my kids that standardized testing is merely practice for the tests that matter. My kids are told to do their best, but not to stress about the final score. The end goal right now: learn to take a test.
By the time my kids have to take the ACT or SAT, they will have had lots of experience with standardized testing, without the pressure of performing. They will have had lots of time and room to grow beyond the anxieties they experience today. They will learn what questions look like and will have the maturity to think critically and problem solve. There will be a day when the test matters, but for right now, standardized testing is just practice for life.
Whether you have the choice to test, or the choice was made for you, your child can benefit from your knowing the pros and cons of standardized testing. A whole lot about the testing experience is determined by the adults involved. Coach your child through the process and the results. In the end, it could be a great asset to your child’s curriculum for life.