I have to smile ironically as I type this post, since in my days as a student, I absolutely loathed standardized tests. Even after serving as a college admissions director for several years, I’m hardly in love with them. But that’s me the unwilling test-taker writing, not me the father of many homeschooled children. As such, I would recommend to parents that they strongly consider having their children take standardized tests through the years. Why? A few reasons.
First, standardized testing provides an unbiased assessment of your children’s academic progress. If Johnny does well, then hooray! What a great confidence booster for Johnny — and for Mom! On the other hand, if Sally stumbles, then it provides her with the facts (not Mom’s “opinion”) about where she is and what she needs to do to improve. Yes, there are bad test-takers, and anyone can wake up sick on test day, but the fact remains, all things being equal, that standardized tests really do provide a reliable snapshot of a student’s academic standing.
It helps with future planning
Flowing right out of this is the additional benefit of course planning for the upcoming school year. Thought Johnny was humming along in math? Hmm. With those scores? Maybe not. Were you planning to intensify Sally’s writing program this next year? Perhaps that’s not as necessary as you thought once you saw her excellent test results and can focus instead on some other subjects that need improvement. Whatever your particular situation, we have found yearly standardized testing to be a very helpful tool in the planning process. While getting back the results can be a bit nerve-wracking, the clarity they provide allows us to tweak a child’s curriculum and help him exactly where he is.
It prepares your children to apply to college
Although an increasing number of colleges no longer require a standardized test to apply for admission, most do. Thus, it behooves you to make sure your children are prepared to take the ACT, SAT, or CLT. Moreover, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it’s typical for homeschooled students’ college applications not to have any outside evaluation of their academic achievements; the person who graded the student — Mom or Dad — is the same person who stands to benefit if the student gets into college. This is exactly why an admissions committee will desire to see some kind of evidence from outside the home. For many homeschooled students, the only evidence will be the standardized test. Better to eliminate any fear or apprehension of standardized test-taking long before the day arrives than to send your child cold and flat-footed into his first ACT, SAT, or CLT, especially with so much on the line.
It’s potential protection against the government
As a recovering lobbyist (“the person you hire to protect you from the people you elect”), I’m particularly aware of the ever-present and overreaching arm of the government — and this most certainly is not a matter about which homeschooling parents are ignorant! As you know well, despite the ever-mounting piles of evidence that homeschooled students far outstrip their publicly-schooled peers, many state and local governments will attempt to harass and intimidate homeschooling parents.
As the saying goes, “Better to have and not need than to need and not have.” On my first day working in the California Senate (I told you I know all about overreaching government!), I was told that Rule #1 was always to have a CYA file. (CYA=Cover Your Posterior) If you can provide to a nosey public servant the results of a reputable standardized test showing your children’s progress, that’s a potentially valuable arrow in your quiver possibly to fend off future harassment. (I can’t guarantee, however, that he won’t try to lecture you about socialization.)
It can save you money
When your child approaches driving age, you may want to consider inquiring with your insurance provider as they often provide discounts to students with good grades. Note well, though, the bias against homeschooling that still exists in the wider world: the only documentation deemed acceptable by our insurer was an official standardized test score report. Of course, good test scores also can turn into merit-based scholarships for college.
Some practical tips
We have found that it’s important to find the standardized test that best suits our children. Would a timed or untimed test be appropriate at this point in time? Should it be administered online or on paper? Note, too, that different tests have different proctoring requirements. Must a parent proctor the test? May it be a non-parent? Are there academic requirements for the proctor? (Some tests require the proctor to have a degree). Are there any state residency rules? (Some tests are available in certain states only.)
If you do decide to take the standardized testing route and your children grumble, feel free to put the blame on me!