TESTING OR ASSESSING? WHICH WAY TO GO?
As a homeschool parent, you know the difficulty inherent in figuring out how your child is progressing. Not only year-to-year, but subject-to-subject. Is your student simply memorizing material to pass evaluative subject exams or is he/she really improving in terms of actual development of skills that will help them navigate the future?
Most homeschool parents have not been exposed to the idea of formative assessment and tend to assume that standardized testing is the primary, or only, way to determine student progress or lack of progress. There is a basic difference between testing and assessing and it is a difference that can shape the entire homeschool experience.
One of the basic issues with standardized testing is that it occurs after the fact. Standardized tests are administered when the learning experience is completed and there is no opportunity to correct or change the course of learning and no opportunity to assist a student who is having difficulty with one or more aspects of the learning process. The child takes the standard test, passes or fails, and life moves on.
Wikipedia defines standardized testing as “Any test in which the same test is given in the same manner to all test takers and graded in the same manner for everyone. A standardized test may be any type of test: a written test, an oral test, or a practical skills performance test. The questions can be simple or complex.”
The website Bright Hub Education (https://www.brighthubeducation.com) points out that standardized testing “provides only a one-time snapshot of a student’s abilities and retained knowledge. A bad day, recent illness, or poorly designed test can drastically alter the results.”
Standardized testing assumes a one-size-fits-all evaluative process.
In general, assessments provide a more direct route to understanding real time student improvement and skills development. Bright Hub Education provides the following example: “Looking at numerous examples of a student’s handwriting from the beginning, middle and end of a school year provides a better indication of [the homeschool student’s] progress for the year. From such an example, parents can better assess improvements and skill development.” For instance, “If a student has not yet eaten lunch, …. their handwriting could potentially be shakier or sloppier than if taken later in the day, after lunch, and thus not illustrate their true abilities.”
Assessments provide homeschool parents an ongoing creative opportunity to use a variety of progressive assessment tools that best fit their child’s learning style and can be adjusted to their own teaching style. Something as simple as talking with your child about what they see as their own strengths, weaknesses and interests can give you a great head start towards assessing their educational performance.
SIX EASY WAYS TO CONDUCT A FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT
The web page https://www.brighthubeducation.com/homeschool-record-keeping/103171-completing-assessments-of-homeschooled-student-performance/ offers some great ideas for creating a useful assessment of your child’s academic needs based on their own unique learning style.
- “At the beginning of the school year, provide options in terms of subjects, unit study topics, and teaching methods. Discuss these options with your home school student.”
- “Determine with you child what goals they would like to achieve with their learning, as well as what goals and achievements you expect. Discuss together what educational goals each subject or unit should meet and how you plan to measure their performance.”
- “Building a portfolio of accomplishments together provides wonderful assessment opportunities, as well as boosting your child’s confidence. A yearly portfolio provides examples of where skills began and how they have improved over time.”
- “Ask your child their opinions on history, science, sociology, geography or even math lessons.” This is a great way to learn how much information your student has absorbed. “If a child can openly and intelligently discuss a particular topic, they are obviously retaining and internalizing the concepts taught.”
- “To further document and track [your child’s] performance, write down their accomplishments for the year. If you noticed improvement in their math skills, handwriting, or application of scientific principles, write these down at the end of the year. Determine what you believe to be the next, most logical goal in their development.”
- “Write down areas where you feel your child could improve. Make note of these weaknesses as things to target in the future. Set specific goals to help you determine when performance has improved.”
3 REASONS FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS WORK
- Formative assessment focuses on opportunities for improvement rather than merely identifying what students did well or performed correctly. (https://wabisabilearning.com/blogs/assessment/formative-assessment-examples)
- Because the assessment is made in the middle of the course, there is still time to affect the outcome. (https://blog.goreact.com/2019/04/01/effective-formative-assessment-educators/)
- Formative assessments can help you as a parent/teacher figure out what comes next for your child. Are you ready to move on? Does your child need a different path forward? (https://www.edutopia.org/article/7-smart-fast-ways-do-formative-assessment)
Formative assessment is more valuable for day-to-day home schooling when used to adapt teaching methods to meet the student’s individual needs. It can help parent/teachers to monitor their child’s progress and to modify their own instructional methods, as needed. It can help homeschool students learn how to monitor their own progress based on the feedback they receive from their parent/teacher.