My son John did not begin reading until he was 7 years old and in the second grade. He had mastered the basic phonics skills, and testing revealed he had a high IQ. But for the life of him, he could not put the sounds together to actually form words. This wouldn’t have bothered me except for the state homeschooling law we had back in 1987. This law required me to take John to a public school he had never attended, leave him with a teacher he had never met, and take a standardized test he couldn’t read. And, if John’s scores were deemed inadequate—whatever that meant—the local school board could deny our request to homeschool John the next school year.
Out of a desperate need for help and advice, I called my good friend, Dr. Loreen Ittermann, then chairman of the Department of Elementary Education at Columbia International University. She tested John to see if I were to blame for his inability to read. (As a young, insecure homeschooling mother, I needed to know that.) After her evaluation, she assured me that John’s only problem was that I had been pushing him too much; if I would leave him alone, he would be fine.
I desperately wanted to leave him alone and let him develop at his own pace, but the stakes were too high. Dr. Ittermann, my attorney, and I all wrote letters to the school board requesting that John’s first-grade testing be postponed until the next year, to no avail.
The week of testing came. I assured John he had nothing to worry about and coached him on how to take the multiple-choice test. “Mark ‘a’ for the first question, count to five, and move on to number two. Mark ‘b’ for the second question, count to five, and move to the third question. Do this until you get to the end of each test section.”
When John asked why he was to count to five between each question, I reminded him that pausing between questions would keep others from noticing that he could not yet read. We laughed, and I assured him that Daddy and I certainly weren’t worried about his not reading yet—we knew he was such a smart boy—and God surely was not upset. Everybody John cared about was happy, so with no concern at all he marched into that public school room to take the test.
I, on the other hand, went home and sobbed, knowing what the results would be. I knew that my school district would most certainly deny my application to homeschool John the next year unless a miracle occurred. I had already been threatened with jail by the South Carolina Superintendent of Education in 1984 for our initial decision to homeschool. I dreaded dragging our family through more legal proceedings.
Then and there, on my knees and between sobs, I asked God for a miracle: “Lord, if you indeed want us to homeschool, I need your help now more than ever.” I reminded God of how He had protected the Hebrew midwives from Pharaoh’s punishment and had even blessed them because they refused to harm the male babies as they were born (Exodus 1:15-21). I prayed that in the same way, God would protect John, my husband, and me from retribution by the school district. I asked God to blind their eyes to his scores.
I’ll never forget the day the test scores arrived in the mail. I trembled as I opened the letter from the school district. I was stunned as I tried to comprehend the results. The scores were terrific! As a matter of fact, some of them were perfect. How could this be?
As I analyzed the letter, I realized the district had pulled up scores that belonged to another student named John Tyler. He was two years older than my John, bore a different middle initial, and had a similar address—not to mention fabulous test scores. The mix-up was our miracle. God had answered my prayers, protected my child, preserved my ability to homeschool for the next year, and encouraged me in a way I have not forgotten to this day.
The next year things clicked for John. He once again marched confidently into a public school room to take the annual standardized test. When I asked him how it went, I’ll never forget his classic response: “Mom, you can’t believe how much easier it is to take a test when you can read what’s on it!” His scores were excellent that year, with most of them being in the upper nineties in terms of percentile ranking.
Educators often view standardized testing as the easiest way to objectively measure the academic effectiveness of any educational option, not just homeschooling. As the above story demonstrates, standardized testing has its problems:
1. Standardized testing is limited in what it can assess. It does not measure a child’s spiritual understanding, character development, creativity, or social skills.
2. Standardized tests should be used as diagnostic tools, not as yardsticks to determine the worth of the student or the teacher.
3. Standardized test scores do not always measure or reflect effort or work habits. Some children don’t test well, even if they have been taught well, have learned well, and have worked hard throughout the course of the year. Conversely, some children who are lazy in school score in the 90th percentile with little effort or concern.
4. An over-emphasis on standardized testing results from teachers who spend too much time teaching to the test.
5. As homeschooling parents, we sometimes fear that others may judge our entire school year and the effectiveness of homeschooling based on one set of test scores.
Standardized testing does have its benefits:
1. Used properly, standardized testing can help you determine where your children excel and where they might need some extra help. You can look at results and make decisions regarding curriculum choices. Are your child’s test scores in math weaker than you would like to see? Maybe he has a learning problem or disability. Or maybe you just need to consider changing your math curriculum.
2. Homeschoolers as a group do extremely well on standardized testing. Even though many educators, legislators, and the community around us might not agree with homeschooling, they understand the language of test scores. When they see the composite test scores of homeschoolers, they may not become fans, but they see that homeschooling not only works—but it works exceptionally well.
If your children are taking standardized tests this year, here is some advice from one who has a love-hate relationship with the process:
1. Relax. Refuse to succumb to the notion that your year is a success or failure based on your child’s test scores.
2. Encourage your children to relax. Explain the real purpose of standardized testing to them.
3. If your children have never taken a standardized test, purchase preparatory resources that cover the type of material that is tested, the use of time limits, and the process of taking a multiple-choice test.
Don’t let testing rob you and your children of your joy. Remember that God is in control. He is the ultimate Superintendent of Education. He will go before your children to prepare the way, make the rough places smooth, and open remarkable doors of opportunity and service for them (Isaiah 45:1-2, 1 Corinthians 16:9).
P.S.: John is now 31, married to a wonderful Christian woman, has two amazing children, and is an attorney.
Zan is the Director of Apologia Press, a division of Apologia Educational Ministries; the author of 7 Tools for Cultivating Your Child’s Potential; and an international speaker. Her goal is to empower and encourage parents in the eternally significant task of homeschooling. Zan and Joe homeschooled their three children from kindergarten through high school, for a total of twenty-one years.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, Winter 2010-11. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: May 3, 2013