Some of the most frequently asked questions in our support group meetings are about testing. Parents are always wanting to know what tests their children need, where to get them, how to give them and when to give them. In the next few columns we will outline the tests recommended at various levels of schooling. We will provide our ideas on how to obtain them, give them and evaluate their results.

How does a parent deal effectively with testing their children? Let's first cover some "dos and don'ts:"


  • Do not fall into the trap of "teaching to the test." Home schooled students generally perform ten to thirty points above average on standardized tests [Homeschooling on the Threshold, by Brian Ray, Ph.D., NHERI Publications, P.O. Box 13939, 925 Cottage St., NE, Salem, OR, 97309.] One reason for this is their all-around, practical knowledge of subjects that does not come from specific teaching for the test.


  • Do not overemphasize the importance of tests, particularly at lower grade levels. These types of assessments have their place but are limited in their scope of usefulness. It is counterproductive to spend daily time teaching our children to learn through experience and interaction, in addition to study, and then base our evaluation of their education solely on a highly specific "snapshot" examination.


  • Try to ease any tendency toward test anxiety. Give the practice and actual tests at home, if possible. Even the test publishers suggest that they be given in the normal learning environment, which, for you, is in the home. If you do not have this option, choose a safe, familiar environment. It is important that you, as the parent, oversee the testing process very carefully, if you are not giving them yourself. Bright, normal children who are very competent in their studies can test very poorly under the wrong circumstances. Treat exam days as a normal part of the yearly schedule. Reward effort and downplay shortcomings. You have taken the responsibility to home educate your children; do not forfeit it when it comes to testing. Also, minimize the tendency to take these tests as a measure of your ability to home school.


  • We have to admit that our children are a bit abnormal when it comes to tests. They have picked up their parents' attitude of loving the challenge and the opportunity to perform (not to mention a bit of competitive spirit). Each of them relishes the opportunity to show off their knowledge. They generally have viewed major test days more like vacation than trial. We have not found this a normal response, though, even amongst home schoolers. Laurie is a certified examiner for the most commonly used standardized tests in elementary and high school and, as such, has had the opportunity to observe a wide range of attitudes children have toward the process. Many students are simply mortified by the appearance of a blank answer sheet that they have to complete. Others are anxious for a chance to prove themselves. Reactions will even differ among siblings. The parents' goal should be to make testing a normal and uneventful part of the education process. If a child has anxiety, do whatever is necessary to minimize it.


  • Read Debra Bell's series on Laid-back Learning for Non-readers