Testing in Homeschool

Dear Reader,

So my post on spiritual testing got me thinking about tests in general and what the point of them is (edited to say, also check out this follow up post: more on testing). When it comes of testing students, I think there are 3 parties involved: the test-taker, the test-giver, and possibly an outside third party. In regular schools, the main point of tests is for the test-taker to show what they know or can do so that the test-giver knows what they know. Now we find that in out homeschool, this purpose of testing is unnecessary. I know what my kids know. This is not to criticize the schools. With many students, it can be hard for the teacher to know where they all are in their understanding so testing becomes necessity. Sometimes the real object of the test is to evaluate the test-giver. This applies to many of the standardized tests like the MCAS here is Massachusetts. It is used not to evaluate the individual but the school. It shows if the teaching being done is effective (at least this is the goal). Do you notice what is the same in these two scenarios? They both benefit someone other than the test-taker. They give information to the test-giver or someone else but have no direct benefit to the test-taker.

Now, if you read my post on spiritual testing, you will know that I said the point of God’s testing us is not to give God, as test-giver, information, but to change the test-taker. This kind of test is for the “student’s” benefit. So I started thinking when should I be testing my kids? How can my testing of them be for their benefit?

Now I think sometimes schools think testing benefits the student in that they are forced to learn the material for the test. My own experience growing up would argue that this kind of learning is temporary and is actually of no long-term benefit. Little knowledge is actually retained long-term from cramming for tests.

At some point I will have my kids practice standardized tests so that they will learn how to do them, which is a skill in itself. So I guess in that case the practice tests teach them how to take more tests the point of which will be to demonstrate their knowledge to others so they can get into college (if they so choose). This is probably necessary in our society but it hardly seems an admirable process.

So is there test taking which can actually benefit the student? Though we haven’t done so yet in our homeschool, I would think that this could especially apply in essay tests. The scenario I imagine is one in which the student is asked to read new information and/or recall previously learned information and in a set amount of time put these pieces together to present a coherent presentation or argument. In other words, the student is not just repeating learned material but needs to think in order to arrange and convey ideas in a new way. This is a kind of mental exercise, like lifting weights for the mind. The time limits imposed by a testing environment force the student to concentrate and to perhaps be more systematic and diligent in their thought processes than they might otherwise. Learning to think on the spot is not a bad skill to have either (I often wish I had it!).

So, what do you think? How do ou use testing in your homeschool and why?



3 responses to this post.

  1. […] blogged on testing here. Today I read this article from the Boston Globe on the subject. The thrust of the Globe article […]


  2. Posted by nancyfromsageparnassus on October 12, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Testing is such a part of our culture, there’s no doubt about it. As a Mason educator, we test daily – with narration, both written and oral. We try to test each semester, also. This would be long-term recall. I’m not as consistent with that…room for improvement here! We are required by law in MN to standardize test once a year, so my kids get their fill of that game. However, not to look a gift horse in the mouth – 2 of my children received lots of scholarships based on their NMS test results. I never emphasized test taking and we looked at it as a fun challenge of sorts, a necessary evil.

    This a.m. on NPR, I heard about the horrible cheating scandal in Atlanta – by the teachers! No Child Left Behind has turned into Every Child Tested to Death with a side of Every Teacher Understands the Stakes. http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/109-atlanta-educators-suspected-583484.html

    Sigh. So blessed to be doing things differently.



  3. I don’t “test” in the traditional sense of the word. But narrations to demonstrate learning. And we do an occasional quiz.


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