How to Prepare for Standardized Testing
By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
Standardized testing is an annual event for homeschoolers in Minnesota and many other states. And I hear from parents who don’t have a testing requirement, too, as they’d like an assessment to confirm strengths and weaknesses or they feel their child should have some testing experience to be prepared for future testing requirements for college or if enrolled in school later. As a Peabody tester, I’m often asked by parents how they can prepare their kids for testing. My first response is to say, “Treat it like any other day and try not to foster any test anxiety for them.” But there are a few things to consider.
First of all, choose the right test for your child. Read my article on Testing Options that can guide you through that decision. Then, regardless of the test you will be using, start out well rested and not overly stressed out. Try not to schedule your testing for the day after you return from a family holiday or a weekend at the cousins’ cabin. On the heels of a big birthday sleepover would also not be the best choice. If you plan to test in the morning (and get it over with), be sure your child has had breakfast. Don’t over do it, or your child will need a nap to digest it all.
If you’re using a pencil-type test (fill in the ovals answer sheet), you will need to have the #2 pencils sharpened and at the ready. You can have a timer or use the microwave to time the sections. It’s best if the child can’t hear the timer ticking, so keep it with you and then come and tell them when time is up (a 5 minute warning announcement is helpful, too).
You’ll also want to set aside an area that is free of distractions (the dishwasher running, phone ringing, etc are not helpful to concentration). If you have younger children who won’t be testing, be sure that the television and whatever movie or program is keeping them occupied during the testing is far removed from the testing area to prevent distraction.
The pencil tests will require this routine for a few days. Especially with grade schoolers, it is better not to do the entire test battery in a one mega-day event (schools spread this out over at least a week). By day 3, you may be getting some resistance as the novelty of the experience wears off and any other activity (including cleaning their room or picking up after the dog) sounds more interesting. Whatever you do, refrain from making comments like “as soon as you’re finished with this part, we’re done for the day.” Nothing incites frenzied pencil scratching at random more than that sort of encouragement.
If you’re testing with the oral style Peabody Individual Achievement Test, you won’t need the pencils, and you will only need to set aside an hour or so per child. You arrange for this kind of standardized testing with a trained tester. Some testers come to your home and some prefer that you bring your child to their location. It’s also possible to test at a neutral site like a library or church and even over skype (I do most testing over skype now, for families in 16 states and 3 other countries- it’s really a handy option!). When setting your testing appointment, keep in mind paragraph #2 from above. It’s still helpful to avoid distractions, but the one-to-one nature of the testing generally allows kids to stay focused quite easily amid normal household activity.
Aside from the actual testing session, what other kind of prep work should you do? It can be helpful to review math facts that your child hasn’t practiced recently. If you have been big into geometry skills lately, it can’t hurt to review fractions, percents and decimals. If your math curriculum incorporates review pages, work through those again in the 2-4 weeks before your testing. No need to cover all of the material in detail. Just work through a few of each type of problem to refresh the memory.
Standardized tests often use multiple choice spelling tests. This isn’t how most of us learn to spell so the format can be confusing. It can be helpful to generate a couple sheets of each child’s spelling words in rows with 3 other possible spellings and have your child circle the correct spelling. This will help make the multiple choice format more familiar. Add this kind of exercise into your usual spelling review and it will seem like old hat by testing time.
Don’t get too worried about prepping for testing beyond that. The purpose of testing is to show what your child has mastered and what might still need a little work. Testing after you’ve been away from the bookwork (during the summer or right away in the fall) is even better. Then you find out what skills have faded and which are firmly in place. Use that information to plan your next lessons. Chances are, your child won’t answer correctly on the skills they are learning right now. New skills are usually shakey in the early stages and the child is easily confused by similar looking answers. But skill sets that you have moved beyond should be easily demonstrated on the test, or it’s an indication that more practice or further discussion may be needed.
If you have an active child who prefers not to sit still for an extended period of time, you might also try a physical activity before you sit down to do testing. A morning bike ride or wrestling with the dog might be enough to take the edge off an active child’s energy level and help with focus. Or test later in the day after some energy has been spent on more enjoyable activities.
That’s about it - My best advice for preparing for testing. I also like to remind parents that testing is just one indicator of how your child is doing. If the results of the test seem inconsistent with what you are seeing at home, don’t let the test uproot your confidence. With the pencil tests you won’t get any feedback for a number of weeks (in some cases, months!), and then you will see scores and percentile rankings. With the Peabody, your tester can help identify where your child started to struggle with the material, and even offer suggestions for skill building enhancements. You’ll have Peabody scores immediately following testing.
Another thing to consider: we are required to test annually, but there is no requirement as to when. You are not mandated to test in the spring. More and more families are preferring to test in the fall as a baseline to their year and a chance to see what has been forgotten over the summer to plan some quick review as their year begins. Others are testing closer to mid-year when they can modify curriculum choices or re-focus on areas that might need more work before the year is dwindling to a close and before the beautiful spring weather is calling all of us to abandon our books and get outside. Decide what time of year makes sense for your family and your style of homeschooling. The Peabody is normed by quarter, so your child is being compared to a peer group at the same time of year, not to kids who have completed the current grade level.
As you can see, we may be required to test annually, but we do have some choices within that requirement. Making an informed choice makes for a more satisfying testing experience and more useful scores. If we have to test anyway, we may as well make the best of it and get the most for our testing dollars.
Mn Homeschoolers: Also keep in mind that you can get reimbursed from your school district for your testing expense in Minnesota. You need to indicate your intent to claim reimbursement with your school district each fall (by the October deadline) and then submit your receipts prior to the end of their fiscal year (typically mid-May). If you choose not to claim reimbursement through the school district, your testing fees are still eligible expenses on your Mn State Income Tax filing under the educational subtraction or credit.