Thursday, October 4, 2012

Alternatives to Standardized Tests for Homeschooling Families

Editor's note:  The information here targets homeschooling families, but these really are great ideas for all families.
Cross posted from Parent at the Helm with permission from Linda Dobson
homeschoolingFrom Susan and Larry Kaseman:
Your interest in your homeschooling child’s academic standing is understandable. Fortunately, we homeschooling families have many opportunities to observe our children’s development. We watch them exploring the world and, when necessary, translate what they do into conventional academic language. (Sorting rocks is science. Building with blocks is geometry and spatial relations. Recognizing one’s name is reading.) We can see the processes our children go through and support their early efforts just as we recognized and responded to their first words. We gradually come to understand that learning about baseball or horses develops basic academic skills.

Alternative Assessment for Worried Homeschooling Parents

When we get concerned about academics (yes, even confident, experienced homeschooling parents sometimes worry):
  • We can review what our children have already learned. What can they do today that they couldn’t do a few months ago? Write a note? discuss current political issues?
  • We can look at the big picture. As homeschooling parents, we know our children better than we would if they were attending a conventional school. We see their increasing understanding of the world; their growing ability to interact with others; their increasing self-reliance as they learn to ride a bike, drive a car, travel abroad; and their increasing maturity as they take responsibility for increasingly complex projects.
  • We can realize that to become mature, responsible adults, children don’t need to follow the path prescribed by conventional schools. Children learn best by following their own timetable, at different rates in different subjects. As homeschooling families, we have the flexibility to encourage this. Many grownup homeschoolers who are doing well didn’t learn to read until they were eight, ten, or older. Many who write well and are comfortable with math would earlier have been considered “below grade level.” Had they been pressured to learn these things earlier, they might have concluded that they could not learn them. A great gift we can give our children is the ability and courage to be true to themselves, to set their own standards, to identify problems and not be overwhelmed by them, to consider a wide range of alternative responses and then act. This will them well whether the problem is a car that won’t start, a health crisis, or simply the causes of the Civil War.
  • Perhaps the best preparation is the ability to learn new things. (Consider people now using computers who did not study them in school.) We can ask: Do our homeschooling children recognize when they don’t know something? Are they confident enough to admit that they don’t know it? Do our children know how to find information they need using resources such as their common sense, the library, the Internet, and assistance from other people?
  • Finally, it’s great that you want to avoid standardized tests. They interfere with learning and are inaccurate, unfair, and biased against minorities, women, and anyone who does not have the same experiences and values as the developer of the test. Taking a test often undermines self-esteem. Test scores show only how well a given person performed on a given test on a given day, not how much one knows.
But test results tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Why would we want to put our homeschooling children through difficult experiences that produce unreliable results that may be harmful to them?

The Hidden Lessons of Standardized Tests

Contributed by homeschooling veteran Ann Fisher

Standardized tests, in addition to being narrowly focused and frequently misused comparative measurements of academic progress, are powerful teachers in their own right. Are these the kinds of lessons you want your children to learn?
  • Someone else knows what I should know better than my parents or I do.
  • Learning is an absolute that can be measured.
  • My interests are not important enough to be measured.
  • The subject areas being evaluated on the test are the only things that are important to know.
  • Thinking is not valued; getting the “right” answer is the only goal.
  • The answer (to any question) is readily available and indisputable, and it’s one of these four or five answers here. There’s no need to look deeper or dwell on the question.
  • My worth can be summarized by a single mark on a paper.
  • The purpose of learning is to get a high score. High test scores are the only purpose of testing.
  • If I score very well, I am better than other people who do not score as well.
  • Poor test scores mean that I am a failure. If I score poorly, there is nothing I can do to change it. Why try?
  • I haven’t learned to read yet. I am not smart.
  • Since I am tested once a year so we can continue homeschooling, my parents and I have to spend the rest of the year preparing for the test.
  • The test was too hard. I am not smart.
  • The test was easy. I don’t have to learn any more.
  • The test was easy [hard]. Public [home] [private] school kids are dumber [smarter] than I am.
  • The questions on the test are what is important. What I have been studying is not important.
  • I have to get a higher score next year to show that I am learning.
For more information on the wonderful world of homeschooling, check out Linda Dobson’s The Homeschooling Book of Answers: The 101 Most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling’s Most Respected Voices.

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to see an example of Open Badges being used in a homeschooling context (

    Is this a conversation happening in the homeschooling communities?