FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions: Testing
Since the public education system is so fixated on testing, most homeschooling parent worry about the subject. Here's a quote from an article in Crain's:
"Studies show that, compared with traditionally educated students, the nation's 2 million home-schooled score 15 to 30 percentage points higher on standardized elementary school tests and about half that on their SATs, according to Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute."
Parents do not have to use the same tests that kids in public schools take, but if you want to see what is on the ELA and Math tests from recent years, go to New York State Testing Page 2011-2012 and scroll down to Past Tests given by New York State.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association's "Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics" compared the test results of 11,739 homeschooled students from all 50 states who took three well-known tests: California Achievement Test, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and the Stanford Achievement Tests. In summary, homeschool students scored an average of 34-39 percentile points higher than public school students in all academic areas tested.
Laurie Spigel is available for educational consultations.
I myself had testing anxiety throughout my school life, so I sympathize with what your child is going through. It can take some time, but you can make the test less important to everyone, especially your child.
It is important to understand that a test will NOT show what your child "knows" or has learned so far. A standardized achievement test will not show that! Tests are wrongly used as assessments. They were originally created as diagnostic tools, not assessments. A test may (or may not) tell you what your child does NOT know, but it will NOT tell you what your child DOES know. In fact, it rarely tells what the student knows! A child's greatest talents and most well developed skills may end up being completely absent from that test. It is not a gauge of a child's skill, but only of their lack of skill. And the skill lacking might be how to take a test! A child can score poorly in areas he or she is good at.
We are brainwashed about this by schools, and the teachers are too. It is as if they have forgotten what a diagnostic tool is and what an assessment is. The best assessor is probably your child. She might even be a bit hard on herself, but she probably knows what she is good at and capable of, what she likes best, where she excels and where she has weaknesses. She will give you a more accurate assessment than any test ever could.
I also think that "trying your best" is a slippery slope. I always believed that I could do better. Always. Maybe that had something to do with my own test anxiety. Doing my "best" seemed impossible. Let's face it -- on any given day we might do our "best" or do our "worst". Being told to do "my best" always made me worry.
No! The ONLY thing that the DoE can do as a result of testing is put you on probation for being below that 33rd percentile, or send you a threatening letter if you have not submitted test results by year-end 6th grade, or if are refusing to test (some families have openly boycotted testing, but they can find this a trying experience). So long as your child tests above the 33 1/3 percentile, and you submit your paperwork on time, there is really nothing they can do.
NOTE about testing: if you think your child might fall below the 33rd percentile: This is a situation where testing in advance might be to your advantage. The result of testing below 33 1/3rd percentile is probationary status, which gives you a year to show improvement. Improvement can be validated by a test the following year with the same percentile (or greater), because the score is matched to the age/grade, so staying in the same percentile one year later proves improvement. If your child has learning difficulties that make you think he or she might test below the 33rd percentile, you can test the child in advance, and show that the test score was at the same level or greater, and thus avoid probationary status by being able to show improvement
Regents exams are an option for a high school diploma equivalent, but they must be five specific exams. There are other equivalents. But often no diploma equivalent is necessary. Only SUNY requires a diploma or equivalent. Most private colleges do not. This might be a more important option if the homeschooled student is NOT planning to go to college, and wants or needs a high school diploma. See Past Regents Examinations.
SAT exams are college boards. Most colleges expect applicants to have taken either the regular SAT or the SAT and two subject SATs (called SAT II's). For many homeschooled students these scores may be even more important than they are for other students, if other scores or grades are absent. The ACT is another exam that is accepted as a college entrance exam.
For more information, go to About College.
The SAT code for all homeschoolers is 970000, but it will appear as New York. The ACT code is 969-999. For the PLAN (pre-ACT), the code is 979-999. For the PSAT, the New York State code for homeschoolers is: 993399. Using this code, the results will be sent to your home. For other states' codes, see PSAT Homeschool Codes.
If your sons are being homeschooled neither of them has to take any tests this year! The regulations state that homeschoolers must send in test scores as their year-end assessments every other year in grades 4 - 8 and every year in grades 9-12. My kids tested in grades 5, 7, and 9-12. So your 3rd and 4th grader can each wait until they are in the 5th grade, unless you want to test them sooner.
Your local homeschooling liaison, the person to whom you send your IHIP and quarterly reports, can direct you to city-wide tests offered in the public school, such as standard math and reading exams and Regents exams in high school. Most homeschoolers prefer to test their kids at home, and many choose to purchase the P.A.S.S. test (Personalized Achievement Summary System for Grades 3 through 8), available at Hewitt Homeschooling Resources, (360) 835-8708 . The P.A.S.S. test is an untimed test that a parent can legally administer to their child. It only goes up to grade eight. I used this test and my kids took it at our kitchen table.
After that, the most popular choice is the C.A.T. (California Achievement Test). This is available at Thurber's Educational Assessments, (919) 967-5282. Or you can get it for less at Seton Testing Services in Virginia. The CAT is available for K-12, but you only have to test every other year in grades 4 through 8 (which can translate as grades 5 and 7) and every year in grades 9-12.
Here in NYC most parents administer these tests, but any DoE office can choose to ask for proof that a certified teacher or registered proctor or librarian administered the test. If you like, you can contact your local office and ask if they will accept a test given by the parent or if you have to use a certified teacher. If the certified teacher is a relative or friend that does not matter. They are still qualified.
I know of a parent who found it available (after a long search) at Poly Prep, a private school in Brooklyn.
The DoE can choose to accept the SAT or not, and your local DoE office should be contacted to see if they will accept it. For more information on PSAT and SAT, see About College: PSAT, SAT, and SAT II.
You are supposed to contact your zoned school directly, and not the central homeschooling office. You can use the closest or most convenient school, even if it is not your zoned school, just call the school's secretary or testing coordinator to set it up.
If you want to do testing in the schools ELA tests are in April and math tests are in May. Arrangements should be made at your local school, though at times families request other locations for their convenience. The important thing is to make the arrangement with the desired school a week or so in advance.
Middle school homeschoolers who are thinking of applying to a public high school should consider testing in the public schools in 7th grade. This can help with the high school application process.
See the New York State Testing Page 2009-2010.
The following tests can all be used as year-end assessments, instead of a narrative assessment (which can take the form of a written paragraph, a report card, a teacher's statement or peer review statement).
The SAT is accepted by the NYC DoE as a year-end assessment for grades 9-12, and the PSAT is accepted for grades 9-11. Outside of NYC, you need to ask your district office if they will accept this exam. If your child is younger than grade 9, you need to receive special permission to use this exam. Make sure to include the national percentile rankings with your child's scores.
If you want to do your testing at home, most homeschoolers use the P.A.S.S. test (Personalized Achievement Summary System for Grades 3 through 8), available at Hewitt Homeschooling Resources, (360) 835-8708). The P.A.S.S. test is an untimed test that a parent can legally administer to their child. It only goes up to grade eight.
Note: Legally, homeschoolers must test every other year in grades 4 – 8 and every year in grades 9 – 12, but you do not have to test sooner.
You can use the free city-wide tests that are adminstered in the NYC public schools by contacting the DoE office where you send your IHIP and quarterly reports, or by contacting the school directly (which is advisable). These exams include standard math and reading exams as well as Regents exams in high school.
Besides the P.A.S.S. test (see above, available for grades 3 – 8), there is the C.A.T. (California Achievement Test). This is available at Thurber's Educational Assessments, (919) 967-5282; Seton Homeschooling; and Family Learning. Seton is considered less expensive than Thurber, so comparison pricing is encouraged. The short test is acceptable, but you may choose the long battery if you wish.
NOTE: It is advisable to order the test at least a few months before you need the results. It can take a few weeks to receive it, and you will have a month or more in which to administer it, and then it takes a few weeks to get the results back.
Another test that is sometimes used is the I.T.B.S. (Iowa Test of Basic Skills), available for grades 3 – 12. Unfortunately, Bob Jones University has made it difficult to purchase this test, requiring proof of teacher's certification or proof of a college degree from the purchaser. For the Iowa test contact Bob Jones University, (800) 845-5731.
It is up to the local district what tests are acceptable. In NYC, parents may use the PSAT as an annual assessment for grades 9, 10, or 11. (For accelerated students, parents should request prior permission to use the PSAT for middle or elementary grades.) Parents may use the SAT as an annual assessment for grades 9, 10, 11, or 12. Parents must include the percentile ranking, which compare your child's scores with the same age/grade students form the previous year. (Younger students and freshmen taking the PSAT are compared to sophomores.)
For a description of the rationale, visit the College Board's Score Report Plus webpage. See also Understanding Your Scores.
AP and CLEP exams, and other single subject exams, may be helpful in applying to college or other programs, but they can not be used as year-end assessments.
See About College for more information on these tests.
Note: It is recommended (but not required) that you inform the DoE which test or what form your year-end assessment will take in you third quarterly report (usually due around April 15), and include that assessment with your fourth quarterly report (usually due by June 30)
See our page on Grade Levels, Standards and Benchmarks for New York City Board of Ed. Standards and New York State Education Dept. Standards for all grades.
Testing is mandatory every other year from grades 4-8 and every year in grades 9-12. These tests can be taken at home or in the public schools or at other locations, such as a private school or library. As for preparing for these tests, you really don't need to. General knowledge is all that is expected. You can look at samples of the test, and at the test itself before and after you give it to your child. This way you can familiarize yourself with the test, in order to prepare your child for the next year's test. You can also lessen the pressure that is typical of testing environments. I know of a school that allows bubble gum only on test days, and "happy meal" style lunches at their desks. The kids there actually look forward to test day like it's a party! If you are doing your testing at home, make sure to order your test in plenty of time to give it and get the results back. TheNew York State Testing Page 2009-2010 will help you to prepare for the NYC-wide ELA and Math tests given in the public schools.
Generally, the selection of high school biology labs varies from school to school, and requirements seem to change every year. NY State has mandated four for the current year. Go to the Dept. of Ed. website, Core Curriculum - Science and click on Living Environment (which is what they are calling Biology now) to get, in pdf form, the "syllabus" for the Living Environment . On p. 8 of the curriculum it states that students need 1200 minutes of lab experience. The list of required skills is on p. 25 of this syllabus.
For supplies, see Science Kits & Supplies on my Science Resources page. Try Carolina Biological, or Home Science Tools. Be careful when ordering. Make sure you are getting materials for one student and not for one classroom.
Your child does not have to take these tests! Many district liaisons mail out the dates of mandatory citywide tests, as a service for homeschoolers who want to take these tests. Any homeschooler who qualifies (they often have to be the right age or grade level) may request to take a citywide test, or a Regents exam, at a public school when these tests are offered. The citywide tests are mandatory only for public schooled children. Homeschooling regulations differ from public school policy. Tests are not mandatory until fourth through eighth grade, and then only every other year (so a child might test in fifth grade, and then in seventh), and then every year from ninth - twelfth grade. When it is time for your daughter to take her first mandatory assessment exam (a standard achievement test) in fifth grade, you can administer it yourself. She can take the P. A. S. S. exam at her own kitchen table, untimed, without the distraction and stress of the public school environment. For more information, see FAQ: What about testing?
Here are the five required Regents exams as stated in the law:
* Only one science is required, even though five are offered: Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, Biology, and Living Environment.
To see past Regents exams (and the answers), go to www.nysedregents.org.
Comments from a homeschooling parent whose daughter took the Biology Regents exam (at the Bronx High School of Science, 6/05):"To arrange to take the test, I contacted the local homeschooling liaison in our district to whom we send our paperwork. You can choose any local public high school where you can take the test. The test is given in Jan, June, and Aug. Check out the Dept of Ed website for the dates or ask your local liaison. When you take the test, make sure you have your OSIS number. This is the ID number that all public school students are given. Your district liaison will give you this number. If you do not have an OSIS, you will have a tough time getting your score. (I went through this experience and it was not fun.) You should have your score within a week. Also make sure that the head of the department that you are taking the test from knows you are coming ahead of time to take the test. He should also have your address so they can send you the score. If you wait for your district liaison to send you the score, you will wait months for it."
Test day can have a party feeling to it. The school in the city that boasts the top testers (St. Ann's in Brooklyn has held the top scores for years), has a name for their testing days: Bubble Day. Or maybe they call it Bubble Test Day. This is because you fill in the little "bubbles" on the multiple choice answers. Every kid gets a pack of bubble gum (against the rules on other days), and they get lunch at their desks instead of in the cafeteria. Luck is styled like little Happy Meals, with fries and soda --also usually not offered-- and there are soap bubbles blowing about the halls and balloons roving the hallway ceilings. Bubble Day! The kids there actually jump up and down for Bubble Day. They are never worried about their scores, perhaps because those scores are NEVER mentioned, and the children look forward to the party aspects of the day.
When my kids had a testing day we tried to break a few rules. They could have a hard candy or chewing gum during the test (usually neither were allowed), and of course a glass of drinking water. I served their favorite foods for lunch or dinner or snack that day. We might play some music and dance wildly in the kitchen or living room just before or just after the testing period. We might not do our usual schedule for the rest of that day, but just try and have some fun or take a field trip. I often broke up the test into its smallest increments, testing just one section in any given day, so Bubble Day might have been a Bubble Week in our house. Music, dancing, movies, balloons!
When I got the test in the mail, I read it to myself first. Then I would go over the instructions and the sample questions with my kid and talk about the test well before he actually did it. Sometimes I would take all of the vocabulary out of the test (spelling words, any new words, words from the vocab section), and we would play a few word games with these words. This is the only time that I ever "taught to the test". I know that this is highly controversial, but I did not see this as cheating, since public school teachers do this routinely. I would never have corrected or changed my child's answers on the actual test and I never interrupted a test.
Afterwards I would ask my kid which parts of the test were hard and which parts were easy. We would go over the test together and talk about the experience. Once my son said that he couldn't understand an entire section. It turned out to be on library skills, and he didn't know how to read a library call card. If this section had been about doing an advanced internet search, he would have done fine, but he had no idea how to search a library card catalog. So we went over that page (without changing any of his answers), and I explained the library card system. When I got the scores back, and I saw one section with a percentile far below the others, I already knew what the problem was, and had already corrected it, so it never stressed me out and was not mentioned to my child. I did not show my kids their test scores unless they asked, but I was always prepared to explain the tests and their answers.
75th% percentile is not a C! And 50th% percentile is not failing! You cannot use the typical grades of A through F and compare them to percentile scores. 50th percentile is considered average. It means you are right in the middle of the students who were tested for this grade/age. Remember that however your kids do is just fine! If your child is concerned, say that no one needs to see the scores and they really do not matter -- it's just a silly test. They might matter in teen or tween years, when scores are necessary in order to gain admission to a specialized program or college or university - but in the elementary grades they are a nonissue. Also, it is important to understand that any test can be studied for and scores can always be improved. I used to tell my kids that they could ALWAYS gain entrance to a program that required a test, because they could always take the time to practice the test and improve their scores. In this way, a test score becomes a smaller obstacle and less fearful.
It is also worth noting that some kids avoid taking tests for life. There are homeschoolers who boycott testing (I am not advising this, just saying that there are people who do), and some homeschoolers have been accepted to colleges without any SAT or ACT score. Just last year (in 2011 or '12) the College of the Atlantic accepted a homeschooler without any test scores in his application. In the book College Without High School, by Blake Boles, the author tells the story of a girl who boycotted testing throughout her life and wrote her college essay on tests and why she refused to take them. That essay got her accepted (without any test scores). Persuasive, intelligent writing can do wonders! In my experience, the tests are less important than most people think. Believing this fact yourself should help to lessen testing anxiety in yourself and in your child.