Testing Options for 8th grade and up

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By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist

Whether you have tested with me using the PEABODY or have done a more traditional pencil test in the grade school years, you have additional options once your child reaches 8th grade. If your child performs well on tests (scoring above grade level) it makes sense to start steering things in the direction of the college entrance tests. It’s certainly a better use of your time and testing dollars.

8th and 9th graders can take the ASPIRE test. It’s the newest incarnation of the EXPLORE and PLAN tests- which were the previous options for this age group. These are precursors of the ACT college entrance test. The ACT can be taken by 10th graders for practice and is generally given to Juniors and Seniors.

If your school district balks at these testing options to fulfill your homeschool testing requirement (as is required in MN), direct them to the Act website where they can confirm that the ACT family of tests are, indeed, academic achievements tests. The SAT family of tests are NOT. This is a key difference between the sets of tests. The SAT is a “college aptitude test”.  Obviously, the ACT is standardized (given to all students in the same way) and Nationally normed (kids all across the country take it and scores are ranked nationwide).

All of these tests must be professionally proctored (you can’t give them at home). You can sign your student up to take any of these exams with a homeschool co op that proctors the tests (check their websites for info or ask around) or you can check with your local high school guidance office to find out when your district gives the tests. The ACT website will also list testing locations in your state. Most testing with these exams is scheduled for all (Oct or November) so be sure you get signed up well in advance. I know of one co-op in Forest Lake MN (Hero) that also does a testing session in Feb or March. You don’t have to belong to these homeschool groups to test with them on their scheduled day.

I highly recommend that you get some practice materials from your library (just find the test prep section and you’ll find several options) or poke around on line, well in advance of the testing date. These tests all have their own twist on the way questions are asked and they can feel like trick questions. A bit of practice ahead of time can help your student get comfortable with the format and with the time limits for each section. The practice materials also give some background on the tests and offer some strategy and insight to help your student put their best foot forward in a potentially stressful testing situation.

As I mentioned, the PSAT and SAT are college aptitude tests, so they don’t meet Minnesota’s testing requirement for homeschoolers. But once your student is 17 yrs old, the test requirement no longer applies. The PSAT is a qualifier for the National Merit Scholarships- so some home prep work is certainly warranted. Colleges vary on whether they want ACT or SAT scores as part of their admission process, so check the websites of the colleges you are considering and plan accordingly.

As for PSEO (a program offering college classes for high school juniors and seniors in Minnesota) you may not need ACT or SAT scores for participation. Again, check the college’s website for their admission preferences. Some schools use the ACCUPLACER test to determine readiness for college level math and English.  The ACCUPLACER can also be retaken to improve scores (you take the ACCUPLACER right at the college) after 2 wks. You should be able to find ACCUPLACER prep materials online or even in the college bookstore. The ACCUPLACER isn’t timed, so there’s no pressure to hurry along with the questions. Some schools will accept your most recent standardized testing for PSEO admission. If you need updated scores and don’t have time to schedule an ITBS or CAT test (pencil tests), keep in mind that Peabody testing can be done any time of the year. I can do your testing over skype or help you find a tester in your geographic area.

If your child has a formal diagnosis of a learning disability, you’ll want to make sure there are accommodations for the testing situation. Typically, this will allow for 50% more time to complete the test. Be sure to ask when you’re signing up, not on the day of testing.

Additionally, let me say that if your child struggles to perform well on these timed tests and you’re worried that scores will be a barrier to college enrollment, you have other options. Even if you don’t have the PSEO option, students can begin their college experience at a technical or community college and later be admitted to a 4 yr college or university as a transfer student.  At that point, with a transcript of grades and college credits from the first school, your student won’t need test scores for admission. Be sure to do a little research about which credits transfer to the degree program your student plans to pursue before you enroll in the classes at the Technical or Community college. You can also use the time at the first school to bolster skills (advanced math or science, perhaps) or take prerequisites for admission to a 4 yr program (foreign language requirement or others).

If this is your first child to approach the college admission process, it can be a little intimidating, even more so if you didn’t have the opportunity to take college courses yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions so that you can get your bearings in this new territory. Even if you attended a 4 yr college yourself, it was no doubt some time ago, and things have changed considerably. Admissions offices and website “contact us” pages are good places to ask your questions. I’m happy to help if I can, or to point you in the right direction to get the answers you need.

Welcome to the next adventure!

ACT family of tests, registration and info     www.act.org

SAT/PSAT registration      www.collegeboard.com

ACCUPLACER       www.accuplacer.org

More information on testing and test bias and limitations   wwww.fairtest.org