Understanding Testing and Tests


Aside from the requirements of state law, consider testing on its own merits. 

To test or not to test? That is the question evoking substantial debate, as well as various responses within the home schooling community. While there are different ways to teach children and very many different curricula to use in that process, there really are only two positions to take in answering the question of testing. First, consider the position of non-testing. Parents who do not wish to formally test their students usually hold that testing is not needed for three main reasons. First, they feel they can know their children's academic accomplishments through repeated involvement and observation. Secondly, they prefer the lack of pressure that their untested students experience. Finally, the position is held that the standardized process of evaluation is not something that independent home educators desire for their particular situations. All these views are understood. However, when you look at testing differently, you can see its great benefit. Simply put, testing provides the litmus of discovery - objectively boiling down the process of determining whether your student has actually achieved in certain academic areas. Testing provides the tools needed to verify the student's accomplishments in his or her educational experience. Good tests, including The Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment, avoid all undue pressure, while recognizing that it is unrealistic to expect the avoidance of any pressure when the determination of accomplishment is the objective. (In fact, most folks will attest that, all of life is composed of a series of choices involving some element of "pressure", whether great or little.) In fact, The Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment imposes no time limits on many of its test items and those that do have time limits have been devised in such a way as not be be unduly restrictive. Furthermore, students with attention disorders or learning disabilities are instructed to disregard the time limits. Testing also consolidates subjects, promotes self-confidence and thinking skills and therefore, stimulates academic progression. Outside testing relieves the teaching parent of undue and unrealistic pressure by not requiring the parent to wear the hat of "expert" in the field of evaluation. So, our answer here at DPS to the question is, "Do test, but use the correct measure"

Once you have decided that testing really is a good choice, the question immediately arises, "What test do I have my child take?" It is here that the view can become blurred and confused because of the different kinds of testing available to the homeschooler today. That calls for a consideration of the different kinds of . . .


In the area of test types, there are generally three kinds that homeschoolers give to their students. They are:  (1) Informal - often, parentally devised daily, weekly, and monthly  (2) Standardized - Norm referenced  (3) Diagnostic - criterion referenced. The Informal testing has the advantages of being tailored both to the certain curriculum and parental evaluation of the student. Also, it may be designed to be more or less rigorous in its items and requirements. Its disadvantages are in the facts that its designers usually do not possess the expertise found among the devisers and administrators of formal standardized and diagnostic tests. Such a lack of expertise can cause substantial oversight regarding test items, procedures, and goals, with the result that the student is not properly tested according to all grade level requirements. Therefore, in this comparison, we are only concerned with formal standardized and diagnostic tests. 

Standardized Tests:  Examples of this kind of test include, The Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford Achievement Test. Certain states' laws require that homeschoolers take a standardized test with a designated frequency. We recognize that home schooled students usually do well on these kinds of tests. Mrs. Dixon is the main standardized test administrator for homeschoolers in our area, so we know first hand that such is the case. We also recognize that homeschoolers do well on these kinds of tests because of their basic content in math and reading. Homeschoolers do well because they, as a group, are in the top bracket of quality education, all myths aside. Be that as it may, the questions arise, "What is a standardized test and what does it tell me about my student"? A standardized test is an assessment that has been devised from a sample of primarily public school students of a certain grade and age in a particular area. After the test has been duly administered to this group, an average of the group's score is determined as the "standard" for that grade and age. Each student of the same grade and age who thereafter takes the test is assessed according to the average of the sample peer group  - hence "norm-referenced" or simply "normed" testing. The foregoing is easy enough to understand. When it comes to understanding the way that a student's answers are scored on standardized tests, other confusing rules apply. The scoring system used by these tests is a three-tiered one, called "percentile rank", "stanine", and "grade equivalent". The "percentile rank" is the most accurate of the three. However, it does not reveal the percent that your child got correct but rather ranks him to the sample peer group of  children his age who took the same test. For example, if your child scores in the 75th percentile in Reading Comprehension, this means that he scored as well as or better than 75 percent of the sample peer group of students who took the same test. "Stanine" scores range in numbers from 1-9. Numbers 4-6 are average. These scores place your child within a range of the percentile ranks. The "grade equivalent" scores cause the most excitement among homeschoolers. They are also the most misleading. These scores measure development from year to year. More importantly though, they do not indicate the grade level that your child is in or should be in. Rather, their scores are relational. For example, if your child who is in 5th grade scored on a 7.6 grade level in math, this does not mean that your child knows all 7th grade math skills or should be placed in 7th grade math. It only means that the score your child received would be the same score that a 7th grader in the sixth month of 7th grade would make when he took the same 5th grade math test.  A big difference - indeed! Added to all of this is the fact that standardized tests are devised to include extra-year test items on their grade level tests. In other words, if your student is in 3rd grade, standardized tests are devised in such a way to include some 2nd grade items and some 4th grade items in his 3rd grade test. Okay, so you understand that standardized tests may place your 5th grade student in the 75th percentile with a high stanine score and that he did as well as a 7th grader who took the 5th grade test. What exactly does that tell you? What precisely have you discovered? Not very much. To make matters worse, parents are rarely allowed to view the tests themselves to see what exactly their child did poorly on in order to remediate the weaknesses. It was because of all of the issues addressed above that Mrs. Dixon devised The Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment, which is a diagnostic test. Next, then, consider diagnostic testing.

Diagnostic Tests:  Unlike standardized tests, diagnostic tests are criterion referenced. This means that the test items and goals are determined according to a fixed set of requirements. They are scored using true test score criteria. This means that they are not averaged or normed. Each test is scored based only on the student's own performance regarding his or her grade level requirements.  Because of this feature, diagnostic tests have the added advantage of being able to pinpoint specific grade level strengths and weaknesses. Beyond this, revealed weaknesses can be properly targeted for remediation. This feature is lacking regarding standardized tests because of their broadness and vagueness regarding specific grade level test item criteria. The Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment is designed to be parentally administered any time of the year; that is, the need for professional or paraprofessional administration is excluded and our tests can be purchased at any time of the year and not just during certain times. Also, there is no need for outside help at all because each test comes complete with lucid instructions for administration and contains a grade-key. So, there are no lengthy periods of waiting for professionals to score and interpret the tests and return them to you. An invaluable feature of our tests is that each one contains a remedial strategies section for the remediation of specific weaknesses discovered through the test. This feature is unknown in standardized tests, not only because of their aforementioned vagueness, but also because those tests, unlike ours, are not parentally administered. Parental administration also has the added advantage of parents gaining first hand knowledge of their student's methods, procedures, and accomplishments during test taking. Most diagnostic tests are produced by publishers and sometimes are tied to their specific curriculum. This is a definite disadvantage to most test-takers. Our tests do not suffer from this limitation because they are not tied to any specific curriculum or set of curricula and are universal in scope. Mrs. Dixon devised each test with both a high criteria of mastery and superior educational qualifications. They possess no "normed" standards but only reveal true test scores. The result is that when each student successfully completes his or her specific test, they will have, indeed, mastered the grade level requirements for that particular grade. Our tests can also be used for record keeping as they fulfill the need for IEPs and portfolios that are required by some states. They can also be used as a pre-assessment for grade placement and are used by some parents for this purpose. By giving the test before the year begins, parents can discover direction for subject/grade placement, as well as target weaknesses for correction. Lastly, the reason we have been making repeated references to standardized tests is for three reasons. First and foremost, they are generally the tests known and used by homeschoolers, simply  because of their saturation levels. Secondly, and because of this, they are with many the rule to measure by. Third, they are required by some states' laws for homeschoolers. When such laws apply to homeschoolers, The Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment is an excellent preparation tool.

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