Spring 2022/Amanda Wares
Administering an annual, nationally-normed, standardized achievement test is required by the NC homeschool law. This part of our law probably causes the most questions and most anxiety for families, especially those new to homeschooling or new to homeschooling here in North Carolina. One of the most common questions asked is how to choose the best standardized test for my child. I would love to help you answer that question!
Most Common Tests in NC
First, what tests are available to choose from? Actually, there are quite a lot, but a few are most commonly chosen by homeschoolers in our state. Here is a list with information on each one. With one exception, all the tests described are for K-12 students.
CAT (California Achievement Test) Versions
There are several versions of the California Achievement Test: the CAT, the CAT/5 and the TerraNova (CAT/6). Probably the most common is the CAT. The CAT was published in 1970, and it is the least expensive of the three versions. The CAT/5 was nationally normed in 1992, and the CAT/6 or TerraNova is the most updated version of the CAT. None of these versions require a degree or certification to administer. They are available online or in paper form. The CAT tests only reading, language arts, mathematics and spelling. The CAT/5 is available in a survey version which is a shorter version of the CAT/5 Complete Battery. The CAT/5 Complete Battery, the CAT/5 survey and the TeraNova (CAT/6) test English usage, reading, spelling, math, science (optional), social studies (optional), and study skills (optional). If you choose to order the CAT/5 Survey be sure that it tests for spelling, as early versions of the survey didn’t test for spelling.
Another commonly chosen test is the Iowa. You might see this test listed as ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills for grades K-8), the ITED (Iowa Tests of Educational Development for grades 9-12) or Iowa Assessments. These are achievement tests published by the University of Iowa. In all its versions, this test covers reading, language arts, math, social studies and science. It is available online or in paper form. You must have a bachelor’s degree to administer the paper test. You do not need a bachelor’s degree for the online test.
Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Achievement
Many families choose the Woodcock-Johnson achievement test to meet their annual testing requirement. This test can give a more detailed analysis of a student’s academic progress than the multiple-choice tests. To clarify, there is also a Woodcock Johnson IV Tests of Cognitive Abilities; this test doesn’t satisfy the NC homeschool testing requirement. However, you can use this test to understand a student’s abilities better. The Woodcock-Johnson tests must be administered by an individual certified to give the test. It is primarily oral and is typically more expensive than the other tests. It is given in one sitting, takes about an hour to 90 minutes, and you get the results immediately.
Stanford Achievement Test or SAT/10
Another commonly used test is the Stanford Achievement Test or SAT/10. It isn’t quite as popular as the CAT or Iowa but is a very solid choice as well. It is considered to be more rigorous than the IOWA or the CAT. It is untimed, and you do not need a degree to give it if your student takes it online (because the testing company is the administer). There are online and paper versions of this test. It tests students on reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.
Personalized Assessment of Student Success (PASS)
The last test I want to mention here is the PASS test. The PASS is limited to grades 3-8. It isn’t as commonly chosen, but it is a test designed by homeschoolers for homeschoolers. It is untimed and is unique in that it incorporates a pretest to determine the most appropriate level test to administer in each of the three subjects (reading, math, and language). It is usually about the same cost as the IOWA test, and you do not need a degree to administer it.
Goal of Testing
Now that you know the most common choices, how in the world do you choose between them? I recommend that you first think about your primary goal for testing. Are you simply trying to jump through the hoop and fulfill the law (as all homeschoolers must do who have children ages seven through high school)? If so, the least expensive, simplest option would seem to be the best choice for your family. During most of my years of homeschooling, fulfilling the law has been my main reason for testing, so I chose the CAT/5 online. It was inexpensive, didn’t take a long time, and I received the results immediately.
Is your primary goal for testing to gain deeper insight into your child’s learning or determine particular areas of struggle and success that they have? Then a test that has more detailed results, such as the Stanford or the Woodcock-Johnson is more appropriate for you. There were a few years that I felt like I needed more information about a particular child and their learning; in those years, I chose the Stanford Achievement Test. It has a more detailed test report than the CAT, but I could still give it myself.
Another thing to consider is whether you want to administer the test yourself or have someone else give it. If you want a professional to administer the test, then the Woodcock-Johnson is a good choice for you. But there are other options if you want someone else to administer the test to your child(ren). Many homeschool groups band together to do a group testing situation. My local homeschool group does this each year. Our group chooses a particular test, and parents volunteer to proctor for the separate age groups. Some parents prefer to have another adult administer their child’s test.
Other Factors to Consider
Are you testing a child with a learning struggle or special needs? If so, the severity of the condition might determine which test is most appropriate. The Woodcock-Johnson is the first choice of many families with struggling learners. A note on testing students with any type of special need: There is nothing in the law about what grade level a student must be tested. You are free to determine what grade level test you feel is most appropriate for your child.
One additional factor to consider in choosing a type of test is your student’s age. If the student is in high school, you might consider having them take a standardized test used for college admission. This option would be killing two birds with one stone—fulfilling the testing requirement for the homeschool law and taking the test to submit for college admission. At this time, the only test that can be used for both is the ACT with the essay portion. I recommend that you have your student take the ACT with the essay in the ninth or tenth grade, just as practice. You do not need to submit your scores until they are beginning to apply to colleges.
Another question is what grade level test you should give. The NC law doesn’t say what grade level test a student must take. There is freedom to choose what grade level test is best for your student. Generally, the student would take the grade level test for the grade they are in when they take the test.
We hope that as you ask yourself these questions, the best choice of tests for your family becomes clearer. For more information, refer to the testing section on our website at nche.com/helps/testing/. You can also get more detailed information about all things testing in our webinar on testing, found on NCHE’s website at nche.com/testing-webinar/.