In some states, such as Ohio, homeschoolers submit a yearly notification of their intent to homeschool to their local school board, and every subsequent year are required to include the results of a nationally-normed standardized test, or an assurance signed by a qualified assessor that the student is making adequate yearly progress. The question then comes up- which is the better option for my child?
The idea behind standardized testing is to obtain a fair and accurate measure of student progress in basic reading and math skills by applying a single standard and maintaining objectivity. Testing content and conditions are the same for every student without discrimination or bias. Each student's results are compared with other students in that same grade, and scores are calculated on the basis of how the student performed on the test itself, and where they stand in relation to other students at their grade level.
Whether or not those things are true is another question. Obviously, the human equation is not completely removed, because humans choose the content, the questions, and the multiple choice answers on these tests. Teachers and parents are tempted to focus on test content instead of encouraging a love of learning. Standardized testing can't measure creativity, perseverance, leadership skills, critical thinking, or curiosity. It is also impossible to guarantee consistent testing conditions. Children who are tired or hungry will not perform as well as they could. Some children are also affected by the stress of test-taking.
If you simply want to get an idea of how your child measures up to national norms in basic reading and math skills, give them some practice in test-taking skills, and have a record to send to the school board to fulfill their reporting requirements, standardized tests are an easy, inexpensive option. Some local homeschool support groups organize yearly testing, You can purchase the CAT (California Achievement Test) for home testing from Christian Liberty Testing or Seton Home Testing.
What will happen to your child's test scores after you report them? In Ohio, homeschoolers are not currently covered under The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, so information submitted to the school board is not protected from disclosure. That is why you are encouraged to only submit a composite score, and not the full set of results you receive from the publishers of the test.
Evaluation or Narrative Assessment
There is a little more work involved on the parent's part for this option. During or at the end of the year, parents compile samples of their child's work in various subjects. A qualified assessor looks over the assembled portfolio, and some may wish to speak to the parent and child about their progress. They then sign the Academic Assessment Report form stating that “the child’s work has been reviewed and that the child’s academic progress for the year is in accordance with the child’s abilities.”
A major advantage of this option is that the assessment is focused on your child’s actual school work and individual progress. There is no concern about being tested on content not covered. However, the assessor will be using their best judgement, so their recommendations will still be subjective.
Some parents may be concerned about choosing samples of their child’s school work for their portfolio. Talk to the assessor you have chosen about their expectations and what in particular they may find helpful.
If you haven't chosen which of these two options you want to use, maintaining a portfolio is still an important part of homeschool record keeping. A simple way to do this is to sort through your child's school work once a month, choose a couple of samples in each subject, and keep any reports or creative writing assignments they did, a list of books they read, as well as their tests. You can also take pictures of special projects they completed, like building a birdhouse, making a weather station, and doing science experiments.
It isn't necessary to keep every single paper, but if you don't want to discard their work that doesn't go into their portfolio, and storage is a problem, consider purchasing a scanner (or a printer/scanner) and keep a file of their work on your computer, or copy to a CD or flashdrive.
Whatever method of evaluation you use, keep the results in perspective. Children have ups and downs like everyone else. They develop at a different pace, and their learning style and interests will affect which subjects they excel in and which ones cause them to struggle. They need to know that what is important to you is that they enjoy learning, and that they do their best. Test results do not measure their intelligence or their worth, or your effectiveness as a parent.