We are still required under Minnesota Statute 120A.22subdivision 11 to give our children a nationally norm-referenced standardized achievement test. The results are still private. The superintendent still must agree with your choice of a specific test and administration methods.
Now you are now required to indicate in your October 1 report which test you intend to use. In the past indicating which test you planned on using was not tied to the October 1 report. Therefore, some parents used to indicate the test was “to be determined,” and that was perfectly legal. That option would not be appropriate now. (www.Mache.org)
So how can we make lemonade out of those lemons? In other words, how can we interpret the test results in a way that benefits our academic path going forward?
Does Something Need Fixing?
The advantage to using the same test year after year is that the student’s progress can be tracked—like comparing apples to apples. For example, when the student takes the same publisher’s test at progressive grade levels for three years in a row and always scores in the fiftieth percentile, we know she is right on track since the test progresses with each school year (or the results are stacked up against others in the student’s same grade). Then the student can confidently continue with the same plan.
However, if the score begins to slip in the third year, the parents can assess whether it might be the curriculum that is not working for the student (I like blaming curriculum whenever possible), or if the curriculum was not used correctly (Oops, did I forget to open that book?), or if more individualized attention needs to be given to that area (You and I will now be meeting daily at 10am to do math together).
One of my kids scored extraordinarily low in the reading comprehension portion of the EXPLORE test. This needed to be fixed for several reasons: 1) the results of the PLAN test he would take the next year would be used for PSEO admissions, 2) the ACT test, which he would be taking in subsequent years, also has reading comprehension, and 3) reading comprehension is an important skill for getting through high school and college.
First, we determined the problem. He did great on the questions he was able to answer during the allotted time, but he had only gotten through half of the questions. *(See the next paragraph for a method to determine this). This told us that he could read and comprehend, but speed was the problem. During the next year we worked in two-week sessions every-other month on increasing his reading speed and practicing with different methods of approaching the questions. As a result of our focused efforts, and a bit of personal academic growth, his reading comprehension score the next year improved significantly.
*(Instruct your student that when the proctor says, “You have five minutes remaining on this test,” she should fill in the first bubble on all the remaining answers since guessing is not penalized. Then she can go back to the question where she left off and continue answering questions, erasing the guess and filling in the correct bubble. Then when the test results come back, it is obvious where she ran out of time—where the answers at the end of the test are all marked with the first choice).
What Is the Test Really Testing and Is It Important?
Only one of my children is a natural speller; the others had to work really hard at it. I could clearly see their lack of spelling skills in their daily work; I didn’t need a standardized test to tell me that. We worked our way through all sorts of programs, but their scores on the spelling portion of the standardized tests never improved. However, when I considered my goals for them, and looked at what the test was actually testing, I decided I did not have to fix it.
My goal regarding spelling was that they would one day be able to spell most words correctly in their writing, which includes knowing whether or not spell check is being helpful. That meant that instead of lists and lists of spelling words, we worked on dictation to improve spelling. In analyzing the test questions for the spelling portion, I realized the test was really measuring the student’s ability to do editing work, rather than spelling. As a result, I changed the way I corrected their dictation assignments: instead of telling them which words they got wrong, I put a number on the LINE where there were errors so they knew how many errors to find and correct. This turned the dictation assignment into an editing exercise. And honestly, I saw no improvement on their test scores, but realized this method enhanced my own goals for their spelling.
Leave Them Feeling Successful
Before you open the envelope, remind yourself that these results are not measuring your performance as a homeschooler (deep breath---and another one). Also, consider the ramifications of discussing the test results with the student. When my kids were in their elementary years, I filed away test results without ever mentioning them. If my kids remembered that they tested (which they rarely did since summer vacation often started by the time the results came in, negating any memory of academics), I just told them they did fine. That’s all they needed to know. Discussing the results can cause test anxiety in the future for some students because they begin to think that their whole year of learning is summed up in those final numbers.
As the students get older, consider explaining the results in light of the concepts presented in this blog, with the goal that you can work together on the areas that really matter. Or maybe it is time to choose new curriculum!
Instead of focusing on the tests and the results with your student, convey the message that learning is not a performance to be measured, but rather an adventure of a lifetime. And yes, we still need to take tests.