Virtual Voices

Making the grade

Education

I have a dirty little homeschooling secret: My kids take standardized tests every year.

I can hear the gasps among all the homeschoolers---some because we participate in that educational evil, the standardized test; others because we do it every year. Either way, I find myself defending our decision more than I ever thought I would.

I understand many homeschoolers, for reasons legitimate and otherwise, don't want to be accountable to the state when it comes to educating their children. I also get that standardized tests don't account for the differences in how many families study core subjects. Finally, I believe that being my kids' teacher and discussing what we learn gives me an intuitive understanding of what they know (I don't need a test to tell me).

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But there are benefits to objective analysis. My oldest daughter learned to read at the expected age of kindergarten and first grade; she finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all on her own when she was 6. But she hated math to the point of daily tears. Not wanting to stress her out, I let math slide that year and focused on her strengths. Not surprisingly (though I wouldn't have known it without the Stanford test she took that May), by the time she finished third grade, her reading level was in the high school range, but her math level was stuck in first grade.

I didn't need a test to tell me that. I knew she excelled at the one and struggled with the other. But having it objectively stated on the test results sheet was very productive for all of us. Having that mark of first grade level on my otherwise intelligent, entering-fourth grade daughter spurred me to action. It spurred her to action as well. We helped her set some goals for herself for the school year, among which was to raise her math score on the standardized test the following year.

Fast-forward 365 days and a whole lot of hard work: My daughter's math scores were four grades higher than they were the year before. This was cause for much rejoicing.

Again, I didn't need the test to tell me she had made improvement, but honestly, I didn't know exactly how much of an improvement she'd made until I saw an objective analysis of her ability. Whereas the test from the year before surprised me by how much she didn't know, the current year's test surprised me by how much she had learned since. And it was encouraging.

Some would say that experience is the best teacher, but what we've found out is that it isn't experience that is the best teacher; evaluated experience is. For our family, that's what standardized testing---three days, once a year---helps provide.

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