As someone who deals daily with questions and concerns about testing homeschoolers, I have encountered a number of misconceptions and some erroneous information concerning testing of homeschoolers. I hope that this article will clear up some of these misunderstandings for the homeschool teacher!
First of all, it is the parent’s responsibility to follow the law in their state. Just because a testing company offers a particular test does not mean that it will qualify for meeting the requirements of our NC homeschooling law. One big misconception is that survey tests are acceptable in NC, but most survey tests do not test spelling and grammar, which are two areas required in NC. Most of the Survey Plus tests have added these subject areas, but it is your responsibility to check. The Woodcock-Johnson III and IV tests are both survey tests. These tests are administered professionally, but the information you receive, especially in math, is very limited because they are survey tests. For example, with the Math Calculation subtest, there are only two to three problems per grade level. A survey test gives you a sampling of the areas tested, and you have to be careful in using the results of a survey test for curriculum decisions. Math, especially, has too many building blocks, and you are not testing many of those skills. If your desire is to use your scores to plan your instructional program, more information is obtained from using a complete battery test. With any of these tests, the science and social studies tests are optional in NC.
As the teacher, you make the decision about what grade level testing you want to use with your student. It is important to keep in mind that if you chose to re-enter a public or private school, your grade level recommendation does not have to be accepted by the school. The principal will make that decision, and they often will do their own testing for placement. Generally, public educators are not very trusting when parents are allowed to do their own testing, as is allowed in NC.
It has been reported, erroneously, that some tests are aligned to the Common Core Curriculum. The Iowa tests, Form C, which have been recently released for homeschool use are one example. Form C of the Iowa Test is a parallel form to Form A, which has a number of outdated questions that are irrelevant to students in today’s world. (The most famous question from Form A that has frustrated parents is the question about the card catalog.) Both Form A and Form C use the exact same norms of 2005. In order to use the same norms, Form C has to have the exact same subtests, the same number of questions and the question types cannot be changed. Since the Common Core Curriculum was written in 2010, it is impossible for the publishers to develop a test aligned to the Common Core and use the older 2005 norms.
The California Achievement Test publishers have done the same thing with their TerraNova-First Edition and the TerraNova-Second Edition (also known as the CAT/6). Both of these tests also use their norms from 2005. The second edition is only an update of some question content and pictures, to make it more relevant to students today. It would be impossible for the TerraNova/CAT 6 to be aligned to the Common Core since it uses norms from 2005.
The CAT/5 is still allowed in NC, though many states will not accept tests that were not normed in the last ten years. I used this test when I was a teacher in the 70s, when this test first came out. There was a kindergarten test, but kindergarten was not part of the public school system in many states. It is important to keep this in mind because the first grade test from the CAT/5 is more similar to the kindergarten tests that are used today. How many public school parents have you heard say kindergarten is what first grade used to be when they were in school? Curriculum has definitely changed over the last forty years since this test was published. There is a much greater emphasis on the higher order thinking skills in the later curriculum guidelines because of the emphasis of preparing our students for the technological world they will be working and living in. This test meets state guidelines in NC, but the information you receive will be limited because of the age of this test. This test was renormed in 1991, so if you have a high schooler taking this test, that student is compared to students who are forty years old or older now.
The ACT college entrance exam/achievement test does count in NC for homeschool guidelines. The SAT college entrance exam is a cognitive abilities test, used to predict student success in college, so it does not count as an achievement test unless you take the subject area tests that meet NC guidelines.
When looking at your score report, keep in mind that none of these tests are pass/fail. This decision needs to be made by the teacher using information from the total school year. The purpose of these tests is to meet state requirements and/or to give you information about your child’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can gear your instruction to the meet the needs of your student. The most helpful score for you is the national percentile ranking of your student in each subject area. If your student scored at the eightieth percentile, then that tells you that your student scored as well as or better than 80% of the students who took the same test in the year that particular test was normed. When comparing your scores year-to-year, a year’s growth would be indicated with approximately the same percentile score. GE (Grade Equivalent) is the most confusing and misunderstood score on the report and has limited meaning. Keep in mind that your student is only being compared with other same grade students in the same grade normed sample. The students are not being compared to other grade level students. If your student is in third grade and scores a GE of 6.8 in math, it only means that your student scored as well as a student in the eighth month of sixth grade would score on that same third grade test. There are no sixth grade math skills on a third grade test, so your student is not being evaluated on skills other than the skills of a third grader. Some grade level material is included that is slightly above and below the level of the test.
What makes a test standardized is that the directions are exactly the same for all students taking the test. Time limits must be followed or your results will not be valid. If your child has a diagnosis of a specific learning challenge, then you may make modifications to the testing administration. A note should be made as to what modifications are made, and this should be included on the child’s score report. One modification that is never allowed is reading a reading test to a student. This would make the test a listening test, so the child has to do the best he can with the reading. Extended time is an allowed modification for a child who has a diagnosis. You are allowed to choose a lower grade level test that is more appropriate to the level of your student. Your scores compare your student to students who took the test with the time constraints, so this must be considered if modifications need to be made. If time restrictions are not followed with students that do not have a diagnosis, then your testing is not standardized and your results are invalid.
The last misconception on my list is that we don’t need to worry about being comfortable with our homeschooling law in NC. As someone who deals with testing across the United States, I am seeing considerable tightening of homeschooling laws in many states. It takes only one legislator in NC to get the ball rolling towards tightening our present homeschooling law. We need to continue to be involved advocates for our homeschooling rights in NC. We must not allow ourselves to become too comfortable, or we may lose some of the benefits of our present homeschooling situation in NC.