When performance is measured performance improves. When performance is measured and reported the rate of improvement accelerates.
Quote from Thomas S. Monson
There are many different types of testing. As home school parent teachers we test all the time. We ask questions of our children. Asking questions of what they have done is a form of testing. Testing in and of itself can be good or bad. The deciding factor is how we use it; how we administer it.
What is the purpose of testing?
First off, let us eliminate testing required by government regulation or law. This type of testing has a purpose in itself separate from the testing the parent needs to evaluate the child or student's academic progress. With this type of testing the government is attempting to determine whether you the parent teacher is providing a proper education for your child.
If a regulating governmental body was not present, would testing be advantageous? The question about testing is do you need to know where your child is in his or her education achievement. Where is your child deficient in their education acquisition? You are not testing to compare your child against another within or outside your family sphere. You are testing to determine what understanding of a subject(s) your child has acquired. It is irrelevant whether the child next door or across the country has a superior or inferior knowledge or mastery of a given subject(s). Your concern is solely with your child. Does he or she understand the subject?
When and how often should we test?
Many home school families mirror their teaching instruction cycle with that of the public school system. The public school system instruction is a nine month per year cycle. If this is your school cycle it is recommended that the instruction year start off with testing to establish a scale to measure future progress. This also allows the parent to see what knowledge the child has a full subject understanding and what subject knowledge needs remedial work. A student testing at the end of the instruction cycle before summer activities may score higher on specific subject matter than they do at next years beginning cycle. This may indicate the child had not fully acquired an adequate subject understanding. This is normal; this first test is valuable to assist the parent teacher in remedial instruction efforts.
Whether you are using a professionally designed curriculum or a curriculum designed to match your childs specific interests, periodic goals of subject mastery is important. Minimal testing is at the beginning and end of the school year. To keep subject mastery performance on schedule testing in the middle of the school year is advised. This will allow the parent to judge whether adequate progress is being made. It provides the parent teacher with information and time to make course adjustments to meet your years knowledge level goal. If you home school year round, you may want to consider testing on a quarterly basis.
Positive Testing Attitude
When children have spent time in public schools they may acquire a negative attitude toward testing. Testing is common in our public school system. Often teachers will test the students at the end of the week on the material covered during that weeks instruction.
There is nothing wrong with this testing methodology except the way it is recorded and reported. The test scores are adjusted to a statistical norm. A student in a class with other high achievers may find a test score of ninety-two percent be graded a C. That same test result in another class may be awarded an A grade. Testing to be a useful tool to judge performance of the student should be a comparison of that student against a set standard and the students past knowledge achievement level. A comparison scale judging the student against another student has minimal value in helping a child acquire knowledge or in measuring that child's knowledge achievement.
Comparing students against each other creates an environment of competition where competition should not exist. There is nothing wrong with competition. Competition in and of itself is good and healthy for society. In a learning environment where subject mastery is the goal, testing competition becomes a negative motivation factor to those in the average or below average of the norm. This is true whether the norm be of high achievers or average to low achievers.
The goal of the teacher should be to build a students mastery of a subject. Competitive knowledge games can and should be used to make learning fun and exciting. Learning and discovering knowledge is fun. It is our duty as parent teachers to keep the love of discovery alive in our children.
As parent teachers we create the proper environment for learning by acknowledging growth and performance. We need to continually encourage our children in their discovery of the world. Doing this creates a positive attitude to discovery, learning and testing.
Testing Dangers Negative Side Effects
After completing a test or series of tests a student often feels they had been studying the wrong information. A student tested using proper test administration has not been coached on the questions. It is common for a student to feel their studies have been lacking especially when test questions cover subject material they are not familiar. If the test questions are proper for subject mastery, the questions then illustrate a deficiency in subject acquisition and understanding. The student should be encouraged to continue studies, and counseled that a test is solely a measuring stick.
A danger of state governmental required testing is the temptation to teach based on the test. A student needs an understanding of the subject, not answers to test questions. Mastery of a subject is different than memorization of answers to test questions.
The parent teachers response to test results can negatively affect a childs attitude of themselves. We must always remember not to compare one child to another. Within a family you will find one child able to master a skill easily while another child finds it difficult. We must not compare one child to another. When there is a noticeable difference they may see and compare themselves. As home school parents, we must work to encourage the child having difficulty. A student having difficulty in one area usually has other areas where their performance is exemplary. We need to praise where praise is deserved, and help motivate, and assist where added attention is required. This is where a good home school environment shines. As a parent teacher you have the motivation and time to assist each child in their development individually.
A test should be challenging. If a test is not a challenge, the test was not adequately chosen to that childs knowledge level. We are not testing to record ninety percentile or above results. The purpose of testing is to determine a childs subject knowledge achievement. A student does not usually progress in a straight line in all subject matter. Often a student will have special interests. These special interests cause the child to excel in one area over other areas. Over a period of time, the students interests change and their knowledge will progress in their new area of learning discovery. As home school parents, we need to be aware of this growth development and adjust our instructing and testing to their specific needs. It is possible for a student to be at multiple knowledge levels, junior high, high school, and college level all at the same time. Our job as home school parent teachers is to assist and guide our child in the areas they are deficient while providing them opportunities to develop in their areas of interest.
Teaching the test (see No Child Left Behind)
The goal of testing is to determine the subject knowledge level of a student. Teaching a student to memorize a tests answers is not testing for subject mastery. The student has simply memorized an answer and may not have any idea why that answer is correct. Our public schools have fallen into this trap because of the law No Child Left Behind.
Testing for subject mastery should not present any undo pressure on the student. The student is presented the opportunity to answer questions. The answers to the questions are then used to evaluate that specific students understanding of subject material. A student should study for subject mastery; not test mastery. The test should offer a challenge to the student. A test where the student scores highly does not give the teacher the information the teacher needs. As a home school parent you need to know where your child student is academically. If you have given them a test where they have scored in the ninety percentile, you need to retest with a more challenging test. You need to know what they do not know. I do not believe most home school families home school so they are in competition with the public school system. We home school because we know we can educate our children to excel above those taught by government public schools. Testing our children is done to determine what we need to do to assist our children in their development and growth.
Standardized Government Tests
Standardized tests are not designed to evaluate individual students. These standardized tests compare a childs progress to the progress of other children. When the results of these tests are reported to the child they can create self esteem problems. No two children learn at the same pace. The information obtained from these standardized tests is of minimal value if the desired goal was to assist an individual student.
Tests can be good or disastrous to a students enjoyment of learning. A test comparing one student to another can destroy a students creativity and willingness to take risks. Life requires us to take risks. When we limit the risks we take to protect ourselves, we limit our opportunities to learn. In our public schools where tests are used to compare one child to another child creativity and risk taking are stifled. No one wants to be ostracized. The grading system in our public schools does just that; it ostracizes one student one from another. A child will either try to fall in line with others or rebel. Both of the chosen options are destructive to the child and to society. We must be careful how we use tests. In large families we must be careful we do not compare one child to another. We are all individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses.