IN THIS POST: Two common homeschool assessment options are standardized testing and in-home evaluations. Some states accept one or either of these for their testing requirements, but how do you choose which one will work best for your family? Keep reading for the pros and cons of each option.
Each state in the United States has different requirements for families to meet in order to homeschool. In some states, the guidelines require an end-of-year assessment of some sort. The most common three choices that I’ve seen are: creating a portfolio, taking a nationally-normed standardized test, or having an evaluator meet with you and your child to discuss your school year and then write an evaluation letter. So which homeschool assessment option is the right one to choose?
I can’t speak to the portfolio option, but I know that there are an abundance of blog posts about creating and maintaining a homeschool portfolio. In fact, when I looked for other articles on this topic, the portfolio option seemed to have the most content.
What I can speak to, and have some experience choosing between, are the pros and cons of taking a standardized test and having an evaluator provide assessment.
For both states that we have homeschooled in, some form of end-of-year assessment has been required. (This is not true in every state so be sure you know what your state requires.) Though we have opted for standardized tests the past few years, our first experience with testing was with a test that was both written and oral. The lessons that I learned from that situation inform my thoughts about the in-home evaluator option.
- What To Do First: 3 Questions to Ask
- Homeschool Assessment Options: Nationally-Normed Standardized Tests Pros & Cons
- Homeschool Assessment Options: In-Person Evaluation Pros & Cons
- Homeschool Assessment Options: Final Summary
What To Do First: 3 Questions to Ask
Before you even go down the path of deciding which homeschool assessment option will work for you – if your state allows the choice – pause to answer a couple questions.
First, what do you hope to achieve with the assessment? Some possible answers might be: just meet the state requirement, give my child testing experience, determine how my child is doing comparative to others in his/her grade, get a sense of what subjects/topics I need to prepare for next year, or reflect on what worked and what didn’t work in the past year. There could be dozens of other possible answers. But keeping this answer in mind will help narrow down your choices and set your expectations.
Second, how much time do you want to invest in the assessment process? Do you want to be hands-on, hands-off, do you want to do more or less preparation work in advance, and/or do you want an evaluation that directs you to next steps or checks a box and you’re done? The answers to what time commitment you are willing to put into assessment will also play a part in determining which options is best for your family.
Third, what is going to benefit your child best? In states where evaluation is mandatory it can be daunting to get a child accustomed to the process. Some children will enjoy the challenges, others will experience anxiety about something both new and unusual in their routine. Is your child comfortable with computers? Does your child speak well with people he/she has met for the first time?
If you continue to homeschool, it is possible that your answers will change or your needs may shift. Review these considerations as needed to ensure that the selection you make continues to work for your family.
Homeschool Assessment Options:
Nationally-Normed Standardized Tests Pros & Cons
Let’s start with nationally-normed standardized tests. Again, please be informed about what your state requires. It is entirely possible that not every state accepts the same tests. There are many options out there; make sure you know what will fulfill the requirements of your state.
Please be clear as to what form of test is acceptable as well. In the two states we’ve homeschooled in, the tests had to be nationally-normed. That means that the state-based end-of-year tests that the schools had to administer at set grade levels were not acceptable. This is another reason to check your state’s requirements.
Standardized Testing Pros
- Timed and untimed options
- Testing experience and practice
- Provides general and comparative feedback
- Often a quick feedback turnaround
- Depending on the test, it can be broken up into smaller sections/days
- Structured and consistent
- Low-prep option
Standardized Testing Cons
- Does not allow for nuance
- May or may not reflect the successes of your homeschool year
- Can be daunting for younger students
- Can be difficult to be the monitor and the parent (“I can’t tell you anything else. I can’t tell you anything else. I can’t tell you anything else.”)
My eldest daughter loves tests. She likes that they are one question and one answer. She likes that the computer doesn’t give any nonverbal feedback (more on this in the next section). And she likes the sense of accomplishment.
My youngest daughter is not as thrilled with the idea of testing. She tends to be more anxious in the days leading up to it, but our last experience with online testing went well so I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Homeschool Assessment Options:
In-Person Evaluation Pros & Cons
Before I launch into the in-person evaluation option, let me put up a disclaimer. The pros and cons that I am listing are from my own list of weighing whether this is a good option for our family – we have not yet used an in-person evaluation.
I am also including some perspective that I gained after our testing experience. For our first year of homeschool I found a test administrator for the Woodcock Johnson test – it has both a written and oral component. I thought it would be helpful for my girls to have a chance to talk to a person instead of just doing the computer-generated questions.
Let me just say: Oh the drama!
I don’t think our experience is typical, but it yielded some good perspective that we have used in our consideration of an in-home evaluation. In particular, my eldest daughter remarked that a computer doesn’t make nonverbal facial expressions when you give an answer or clear its throat or change the inflection of a question. She was overthinking every move and vocal shift that her test administrator made whenever she gave an answer, and it made the process a lot more stressful!
Because the context of our experience was within a testing situation, I don’t think it would be as impactful with an in-person evaluation. My understanding of these visits is that the evaluator asks more general, open-ended questions with the intention of understanding progress, not right/wrong answers.
With that disclaimer/caveat in mind, let’s make a list!
In-Person Evaluation Pros
- Feels more like a conversation than a test
- Practice interview skills
- Specific feedback
- Quick feedback turnaround
- Potential to build up and encourage a student
- Finished in one visit
In-Person Evaluation Cons
- Feedback with limited context
- Depending on the evaluator’s requests, it could be a lot of work up-front to collect and prepare information about your year
- Not as acceptable to submit to other organizations and agencies, maybe a consideration if you have an older student
- More subjective about what to evaluate and what is important (could also be viewed as a positive)
We’ve hesitated to use this option because of our negative experience with the oral test several years ago. However, when examining these comparisons the evaluator option has some strengths to recommend it. I am particularly intrigued by the idea that it functions as a sort of low-key interview. Testing is a skill that students may need up to a point; however, students can use interview skills throughout their life.
I also appreciate an option where we can emphasize the unique learning experiences that we’ve had through the year. An in-person evaluation creates space to talk about a unit study on air & wind or field trips at the Outer Banks or the challenges or benefits of using the Beast Academy math curriculum. The feedback has the potential to be much more suited to our specific situation.
Homeschool Assessment Options: Final Summary
Hopefully these lists will give you some guidance when considering what form of end-of-year assessment you will use.
A couple key things to remember when choosing an assessment: one, make sure you know what your state requires, and two, annually review what you want to get out of your experience. Keeping these two preparatory steps in mind will help you to make the best decision for your family at this time.
Have you had any experience with either of these homeschool assessment options? What other forms of assessment have you used based on your state’s requirements?