5 Reasons Why Homeschoolers Reluctantly Use Published Tests (And What To Do About It)
Here are five reasons why we reluctantly use published tests and some follow-up responses.
Reason #1: We feel insecure. Even though home schooling has become more and more mainstream, we still realize we’re not trained professionals, and we don’t want to risk ruining our children’s education by trying something too “out of the box.” We play it safe and stay with the “tried and true.”
Response: Feeling insecure is normal when you don’t have the “proper papers.” While it seems to go away with time, it returns when our students enter their high school years. Years ago I began my teaching career in a private school without having completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree, let alone my teaching credential. I hoped my students’ parents would not ask about my university training, and when they did, I changed the subject as quickly as I could. As a non-degreed/certified teacher, my insecurities were eased by finding good teacher mentors to help me and give me feedback. Our high school diploma program was born out of such concerns. My recommendation is to seek out home school mentors.
Reason #2: We assume that book publishers know what they’re doing. We say to ourselves, they are the professionals, and we are just the laymen. They have the inside scoop on pedagogy, and we’re not even sure how to pronounce that word.
Response: Yes, professional educators and text book publishers do know things we don’t. My recommendation is to use the teacher guides that come with the textbooks. However, we need to see them as tools, not another set of the “Ten Commandments.” Many teacher guides were designed for teachers in classrooms of 25 plus students. Don’t minimize your own ability to improvise on a lesson. For most mothers, every day is a day of improvising, course correcting, and multi-tasking.
Reason #3: We tend to teach how we were taught, and we test the same way.
Response: Like we were taught, before Google. My recommendation is that for tests that are memory intensive and scheduled to be taken frequently, cut out some of the questions, maybe up to half. Which half you ask? The “footnote” questions, the ones you could only find the answer to if you spent a lot of time in the index of the book, the ones whose answers bear little significance to getting the main idea of the chapter or section — these all should get the ax! Again, our diploma program advisors walk their clients through this process. Additionally, study sheets and oral reviews help students know what the test is targeting. More on this in an upcoming article.
Reason #4: Published tests are easy to score. Simply bring out the answer key, and in minutes you’re done. Evaluating answers to essay questions is another story, and so we keep them to a minimum or exclude them altogether.
Response: True! I like tests that are fast and easy to score tests. We all experience time pressure. Tests that use primarily true-false, multiple choice, and matching items yield a quick score, and most students like their parents to tell them how they did in a reasonable amount of time. But, I’m suggesting we move away from tests in which seventy to eighty percent of the items are fact based. That means using questions that require the student write a paragraph or more to answer. How is this to be graded? I recommend using a point system to quantify answers. Here’s one way to do this:
- When evaluating the student’s response to a question, award the following:
4-5 points for good to excellent answers
3-4 points for adequate answers
1-2 incomplete answers
- Add up the number of points earned and divide it by the number points possible, and you’ll get a percent which you can use to justify a grade.
Reason #5: Publishers produce and sell what consumers buy, and we buy their tests.
Response: This is just simple economics. But what if you want to change how you measure understanding? As the saying goes, “You can’t be something with nothing.” Four different products we offer go beyond basic memorization. While they do involve some recitation of facts, they also include questions that require comprehension, the ability to analyze, and the ability to evaluate.
Asking questions that extend student’s thinking and understanding must be done intentionally. While it may be difficult and time consuming at first, with practice, it gets easier. In future articles, I’ll present and explain six levels of thinking that you can put to use immediately to check your student’s understanding beyond their ability to parrot facts back to you.
Curt Bumcrot is the founder and director of Basic Skills Assessment and Educational Services. He has been active both as a teacher and administrator in Christian Schools. He and his wife, Jenny, who home schooled their three children, currently reside in Oregon City.