Many states (but not all) require testing if you homeschool. Colorado, where I live now, is one of them. I’ll talk specifically about my experience with testing in Colorado, and most of the principles will apply to other states as well.

As with all things “homeschool,” you can find many different opinions concerning testing. Some of my undergrad work was in testing, and I don’t view it as an across the board evil. A well-made standardized test will be created for a particular purpose. Using it for other purposes will usually lead to problems except in the hands of an extremely well-trained tester. Using it for its designed purposes yields helpful information.

Colorado requires testing every other year beginning in grade 3. Colorado code does not specify which standardized test your child takes. It must be “standardized” however. In a nutshell, that means you’re looking for a test produced and administered by a testing publisher, with scores that are “normed,” and with strict guidelines for administration. In other words, it’s not a test you or your neighbor wrote 🙂

The routine for testing is thus:

  • You decide what test to use.
  • You order it.
  • You give it if you are qualified or find someone to give it.
  • You send it back whence you bought it.
  • They send you a test report.
  • You copy it.
  • You file the original.
  • You mail the copy to the school district where you sent your letter of intent.
  • You’re done!

In most states, testing is more of a hoop to jump than a monster to fear. In Colorado, your child only has to score above the 13th percentile. Scoring below that really, really is not likely to happen.

So relax. Just do it. You don’t need to teach to the test or prep for the test. If your child has never dealt with filling in bubbles and such, you can get mini-tests that will let them get comfortable with that routine.

Your anxiety is contagious. And anxiety hurts almost all test takers. So if you want your child to do well, lose the anxiety. The worst case scenario? About six months later, you can test again and turn in the best scores. But remember, we’re only talking 13th percentile here!

Know what the single strongest predictor of how well a child will do with school is? It’s parental involvement. As a homeschooler, your child has that sewn up. As long as they actually do the work involved with the test, they’ll do fine.

Final Colorado note: you do have the option of having an evaluation completed instead. But I have always avoided this option for these reasons: There’s no form or format provided, leaving too much room for my comfort for someone to question the assessment. It’s hard to argue with standardized test scores. The same applies with who is a “qualified” evaluator–no specifics are  given. Finally, if I am going to spend my time and money on this, I’d like to get something out of it for myself. A standardized test tells me every other year how my child compares with others at his or her grade level. It crosses all our minds at one time or another and testing gives you an idea (although I’ve never known a homeschooler who was surprised by results; “oh yeah, I knew he was a lousy speller still.”) And if you like their scores, you’ve got a little ammo for the “worried” relatives.

Finally, here are the gory details:

  • I use the ITBS, Iowa Test of Basic Skills. It tests the basics.
  • I purchase it from BJU Press. I don’t agree with many of their university policies but they provide great service with their testing. It’s easy to order online, they are prompt, and their help line is actually helpful with questions.
  • Allow extra time to get a test administrator approved. Most will require someone with a college degree and a signed statement to that effect.

The administrator must ABSOLUTELY follow the script to the letter. The validity of the scores for everyone depends upon the test being given the same way every time. Your kids will giggle as the script is read, but scores are worthless if the testing conditions are not the same for everyone.

Until high school, this is the only time my kids are tested on anything. Do it, get it done, move on to more important things. 😉