Testing Jitters

As spring draws nearer, our oldest son is beginning to glance at me worriedly every time I pick up the phone. I’ll be calling in an outside tester to administer his first standardized test soon, and he is on high alert so he can create a diversion the moment that phone call takes place. Apparently, I failed to make the testing requirement known to my son early enough for him to get used to the idea, because he has a bad case of testing jitters. Naturally, he’ll be getting tested whether he likes it or not (it’s The Law, you know), but right now he still thinks he can thwart my evil plan.

He’s pretty anxious about the whole thing. For that matter, so am I.

We don’t do anything like standardized testing at home, nor are we doing things in the usual textbook-reliant way, so this is all completely foreign to him. Until now, I haven’t been concerned with his standardized test scores all that much. I don’t expect it to be a home-run, because it’s not really relevant to what we’re doing. Whatever happens, I’m certain that he is progressing as well as he can–way “ahead” in some things and with some challenges in other areas.

And yet, now that I’m forced to think about it, those numbers seem important to me. Possibly because I spent all of my own school years being categorized by test scores, I am on tenterhooks wondering how my boy is going to measure up.

I find myself falling into the comparison trap again–not against any other children I know (comparing individuals is something I’ve learned long ago not to do)–but against those cold, hard numbers. I like those numbers. I’ve been trained to think they mean something, even though I know many, many people whose successes and failures as adults prove that tests don’t predict anything of value.

This “99%” means I’m smart! And that 100 means I’m completely average! And how will we ever know where I fit in this world without those numbers? The public school testing model has left its mark on my psyche, apparently. Even though I know better, I’m still anxious to see “good” numbers at the end of all this.

And I haven’t even taught him how to take a test! What kind of mother am I?

But it’s just a number! It can’t tell me how well-behaved my child is, or what his future holds, or how creative he is, or even how good he is going to be at a particular subject next year!

Fortunately, I spent a lovely evening with some seasoned homeschool moms last night, and came away reassured that my child is not going to be permanently damaged by the fact that I haven’t taught him based on what’s “normal” at this age, or what the tests expect him to know, but on his own needs and aptitudes.

I’m not entirely anti-test. Measurements are useful, if you don’t give them the wrong amount of emphasis. I’m very interested in gaining insight into the kinds of things that tests are actually able to tell us. But I don’t want to make too much of the whole thing.

How about you? How much weight do you give to the results of standardized tests?


  1. We have to have testing in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades here. I dread the day! We are only doing kindergarten this year, but I haven’t really planned on doing any tests and our lessons don’t really factor tests in so it will be interesting!

  2. Well, you probably heard most of what I’d say last night already. Here’s something to reassure you that you can pass along to your son: the test scores will go straight to you. Nobody else will see them. So….no sweat.

    I will say that I have come to see the value of regular test-taking practice as we round the final turn on college applications. I wish I had started a little earlier with my older boys. It doesn’t make much difference in their actual education but higher test scores make a huge difference in consideration for scholarships.

    At this stage in your kids lives….this is nothing to worry about.


    • Now, see? I hadn’t even considered whether anyone else would see them! I’m glad you said that before I wondered. That would have made me nervous. 😉

  3. We tested once just a measurement of how well we were teaching. The results were good.

  4. Hey, Cindy! I know exactly what you mean about standardized testing! When we had to do our first one, I went on an in depth search that would satisfy the requirements of the state as well as not overly stress out my daughter.

    Have you considered the PASS test? This is what we have used every time and we absolutely love it! It only tests on Reading, Math, and Language Arts – so you don’t have to worry that you’re not following the same schedule as schools in science or history. Also, there is a placement test that allows you to use a more targeted test that takes less time. AND, you can administer it at home without a time limit (well, you have to return it in 4 weeks, but other than that…)

    And, the great news for you? It’s actually been officially approved by North Carolina – how cool is that? GA doesn’t have any official recommendations, but our laws read similarly to NC, so I’ve used the fact that you guys approved it to back up my claim that it meets our state’s requirements too 🙂

    And, no I don’t work for or make any money from Hewitt – I just think their test is awesome for homeschoolers 🙂 I can answer any questions you have about the test or the results we’ve done it several times now (only every 3 yrs though – not the every 6mos that the company suggests…)

    • I’ve heard good things about the PASS test. I’m still thinking about what I’m going to do. I’m so unenthused about the whole thing. I have time, right? 😉

  5. What do they do with your test scores? Do they just make the children take them, then forget it? Just curious…

    As a public school teacher in VA, I was just told that the county would be using a bell curve model to judge my performance as a teacher. Apparently X number of students have to fall between points A and B, or I’m considered ineffective.

    I’m not sure how this is going to go since I’m a SPED teacher. Consider student Y who has progressed from a 1st to 3rd grade reading level this year, but he fails the 4th grade reading SOL test; am I sill ineffective just because he failed, to heck with the three years progress in reading?

    Things like this are why I am going back to graduate school 🙁

    • They score them and send them back to us. It’s all done privately, and no one looks at them unless there’s a legal reason to, as far as I know. I guess so we can be sure the professionals have had their say. Can’t have *too* much freedom. That might be dangerous. 😉

      I’ve read several articles about the difficulties SPED teachers have with standardized testing. What a nightmare all this one-size-fits-all legislation causes! I feel for you.

      I’d wondered how that would work for homeschoolers with special needs kids, too. I mean, we have to give a 7 year old a test. What if he’s not able to do that? Or what if our 15 year old is still on a K level because of disabilities? Are parents of disabled kids exempt from schooling requirements? I might look that up someday. Curious how the government handles exceptions when their laws are passed for the middle.

  6. Our state does not require any sort of testing. My kids asked to do it once just to see how they could do so we did when my son was in middle school and my daughter was in early high school. They did really well and were happy with their scores but I’m not an advocate of standardized tests. There are so many variables to consider that I just don’t think it makes sense to give standardized tests. What if you taught something completely different than what’s on the test for that year? What if they’re really good at something that’s not even on the test? What if they are really smart kids and do really well with their schoolwork but have test anxiety and freak out over tests? I could go on and on but you get the idea. I think they can be a great tool if it’s something you choose to use but requiring all kids (even in the public school system) to take these tests and meet certain standards is not a good measure of how much a child is learning and retaining in my opinion.

    • All I know is that kids graduated with a lot more actual knowledge under their hats in the days before standardized testing. Could be that teaching to the tests *caused* the problem, or it could be that they’re just an ineffective solution to the problem. Either way, they’re not very useful, I agree.

      • AMEN!! Yes, I think the “teaching to the tests” is what’s caused a lot of the problems in the public school system. I think things would be completely different without the tests.

  7. SleeplessinSummerville says

    Gosh, I didn’t realize home schooled kids had to do this. It sounds senseless. But I guess you and your son are about to find out if he’s any good at taking tests. Because test-taking is a skill and probably not one he gets to practice too often. It’s low-stakes now, so not a big deal like it would be if it were the SAT.
    And you bring up a point that I hear over and over from the home-schooling community, that schools are particularly good at ranking children in terms of their various abilities. However it is not so clear why this is beneficial…

    • It really doesn’t make a lot of sense. We have only our own kids to evaluate, and we know right where they are! For public schools, I can see an arguable point for standardized testing. I don’t agree with it, but I could argue it if a debate team needed me to. 😉 For homeschools, it’s really a distraction. When my kids need to take a test, I’ll prep them for it, just like I do the rest of what they need. The all-knowing state seems to think otherwise, though.