FAQ -- About Standardized Testing
- By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
When do I have to have my child tested?
Children between the ages of 7 and 16 are subject to the compulsory education law in Minnesota, and need to be tested annually with a nationally norm-referenced and standardized test.You must report your child in your Oct 1 paperwork once the child turns 7 yrs old, and you will test that child for the first time that year.There is no requirement to test in the spring or any other time of year. Testing can be done any time.
What time of year is best for testing?
The requirement is for annual testing and does not specify a time of year. You can choose what works best for you. Depending on the test you are planning to use, there can be "in season" and "off season" pricing. Off season testing can cost more, and the scores may be delayed compared to testing during the company's busy time. Many homeschoolers test in the spring because it's what we grew up with in the public school system. I actually preferred to test my children in the fall so that I had some measure of what had been forgotten over the summer and needed a quick review as we got started. I liked to see the test as a starting point, not a finish line. For families who pull their child out of school midyear, testing right away can be helpful to show gaps in learning skills (esp math) or to establish a reading level for purchasing curriculum materials. Some families like winter testing as a chance to identify areas that might benefit from renewed focus as the year progresses. I would actually raise the issue that spring in the less useful time for homeschoolers to test. Spring in Minnesota is a busy time and a homeschooler's fancy turns to outdoor pursuits, sports, theater and other calendar cramming activities that make it difficult to set aside the time needed to pull off several hours of testing.
So, ultimately, you can decide what works best for your family and your schedule. It is also perfectly acceptable to test during the summer months, if that fits best for you.
Can I test my 5 or 6 yr old?
Yes, it is possible to have your 5 or 6 yr old tested. Is it advisable? That's another question. Personally, I don't advise it and you can read more on this issue, and my reasons for advising against it, in my article on the topic. Check the Articles & Handouts page of my website.
Should I prep my kids for the test?
This is not at all necessary. The purpose of the test is to show what skills and material your child has mastered. Let the test show you what needs another round of reinforcement and what's locked safely in their brains. A casual review of math skills that they haven't worked with in recent months is reasonable, but a big cram session or week long push is not necessary or advisable.
Is it better to test my kids at home or some other location?
You can best decide what environment is best for your child. Many children are most relaxed at home. Some kids like the importance of going somewhere special for the testing. It can also be less distracting to test in a library meeting room away from the hubbub of siblings. The counter point to that is that most kids are very adept at tuning out the usual household hubbub.
How is the Peabody (PIAT) different from the pencil/oval exams?
The Peabody is much shorter in duration and assesses in all subject areas. It also doesn't require reading other than in the reading assessment portion. This is a critical point if your child's reading level is trailing their spoken vocabulary. The test will also rise to your child's level of ability, so an advanced child won't have to spend countless hours on material beneath their ability. And the Peabody isn't timed, so that stressor isn't part of the mix.
Should I have my child take a pencil/oval test just to have the experience?
I don't see any real advantage to this. The pencil/oval tests will all be switching over to computerized testing in the coming years (I'm actually surprised they are still on paper now!). When your child is in junior high, you can explore the practice materials (online or available at all libraries) for the PSAT and PLAN tests or the SAT and ACT tests. Having experience with these specific exams is helpful due to the stressful nature of the college entrance exams. "Practicing" with the Iowa or CAT5 doesn't translate to those other formats. A junior high student can get plenty of practice without spending years filling in ovals.
Why is the Peabody so much briefer?
Because the Peabody is administered by a trained examiner, your child only takes the portion of the test they are ready to take. The examiner watches as your child moves through material that has been mastered and into material with which he/she is less familiar or which is unknown to him/her. Each subject area is handled this way, and you receive scores for each subject as well as an overall score for your child. With the pencil tests and the after-the-fact scoring, your child will wade through endless questions that may be beneath his/her ability or struggle with questions that he/she can't answer but must waste valuable time on with the format of a timed test.
How should I pick a Peabody tester?
Some testers work strictly in their own home, so when calling a tester be sure to clarify the location for the test. You may want to choose a tester nearby if you'll need to travel to the tester's home for testing. If you prefer that your child be tested in your own home, be sure to line up a tester who will travel for you. Also be sure to ask about the price of the test, and whether it will be scored immediately or if scores will be mailed to you later. If you are in outstate Mn, you'll need to find a tester who comes to your part of the state or set up an appt when you can be in the Cities (on vacation or visiting friends or seeing the museums, etc). Most testers will accept cash or check for payment. I don't know of any who are set up to take credit or debit cards.
What should I tell my kids about testing?
Keep it simple. When I arrive for a testing appt, I explain to the child that we will be doing some reading and some math work and other school stuff, but that it's like a game. I also explain that I'm simply trying to figure out what material is easy and what things might not have been covered yet. I also assure the child that it's ok to change his/her mind on an item or to ask questions as we go.
Should I share the results with my child?
This matter is completely up to you. Some children couldn't care less. Once they are finished they are off to more interesting pursuits. Others (typically older kids) are curious to see how they did. Knowing our own strengths and weaknesses is nothing to be uncomfortable about, and I always point out the areas where a child excelled and areas that might need a quick review. I never use language that would sound critical or judgmental about a child's performance.
If my child scores quite high, say in math, can we skip a grade?
A standardized test, by its nature, is too general to allow you to assume that your child has mastered all of the skills to be covered in a given grade level of curriculum. You can assume that your child will move easily through the corresponding material, but don't skip a grade or two based on standardized test scores.
What if my child has test anxiety?
If this is an issue for your child, I would strongly encourage you to test with the Peabody. The shorter format and casual nature of the test, as well as the fact that the test isn't timed will minimize the stress for your child. Talk with your tester about your concerns for your child's anxiety. Sometimes a little chatting time up front so that your child can get acquainted with the tester and feel comfortable about the process can make all the difference. I often show kids how the flip books work and how we will move through the material together. It can also be possible for you to sit in on the testing for moral support. Please respect the testing process and remain a silent observer.
What if my child has special needs?
In cases of specials needs, I think the Peabody is able to give you the most accurate reading on your child's skills. Please be sure to voice any concerns with your tester when you make your appt.
What if my child isn't reading yet?
If your child is nearing 8 years old and isn't reading yet (or if your child is older) please set up testing with a Peabody tester. You want their experience to be as comfortable and low stress as possible. And let your tester know that your child is not yet reading sentences or not yet reading more than very short words. This will insure that your tester won't begin with material that is above your child's comfort level.
What will the test scores tell me and when will I get them?
Different tests have different scoring formats. With the Peabody, you will see raw scores, grade level comparisons and percentile rankings. Raw scores, on their own, don't tell you much. The grade level comparison will tell you the level of difficulty your child was comfortable with. When it comes to percentile ranking, 50% is right where your child should be for his/her current grade level. A higher percentile indicates an area of strength and a lower percentile indicates an area of difficulty for your child.
What if my child scores below the 30th percentile?
If your child scores below the 30th percentile on the overall test battery, the Mn Statute advises that you get an outside assessment for learning disabilities. You are not required to submit your scores to anyone. You are not required to have the school test your child for learning disabilities. If you already know that your child has learning struggles, I advise parents to simply document all accommodations you are making to address your child's needs. Also document any workshops you attend or books you read or online research you do to better accommodate your child's learning needs. There is absolutely no test outcome that could mandate that your child attend public school for any reason.