Testing 101

By Angela Paul
Basically there are two types of standardized tests – norm reference and criterion reference. Here in Georgia we are required to give norm reference tests. A norm reference test answers the question – how does my child compare with other children his


A criterion reference test tells you if you child has learned a certain criteria – can this child add three digit numbers? I personally prefer criterion reference test, but our

law requires the norm based ones. At any rate, a home schooler does not need either test to know how there child is doing. We do want to obey our law, though.

A norm reference test uses three measures to compare children – grade equivalencies, percentiles, and stanines. In my experience grade equivalencies are misunderstood and

percentiles can cause fear, so I prefer stanines.

A grade equivalency tells you how a child in a particular grade would have done on the same test. It does not give you your child’s grade level. Scores are presented as grade followed by month. For instance, if your 3rd grader scores 8.1 in math, it does not mean that she is at 8th grade level in math. What it means is that an 8th grader in his first month of school would have scored what your child did ON THAT PARTICULAR TEST.

They don’t have 8th grade math on the third grade test, so there is no way that a third grade test could tell you that your child was ready for algebra.

The percentile gives you the percentage of kids taking the same test in the same grade that your child out scored. If you child scored in the 87th percentile in math, it means that she scored better than 87 percent of the kids taking the test. Folks can become alarmed if their child scores in the 67th percentile, but that is still a good score. Even a 35th percentile is considered on grade level. Our minds are more geared toward percent

correct, so we tend to have problems with percentiles (unless our kids have a very high score). Percentiles also sound more precise then they really are.

My favor indicator is the stanine. Stanine is short for standard nine. The population of students is divided into nine categories based on their scores and given a number 1 through 9. Scores of 9, 8, and 7 are above average, 6, 5 and 4 being average and 3, 2, and 1 below average. A difference of two stanines is significant. For instance if your child scores in the 9th stanine in math and in the 7th stanine in reading comprehension, one could say that your child is above average in both areas but definitely stronger in math skills.

The most useful information on standardized test results is the detailed breakdown in each area. Some testing companies do a very poor job in this area and I would ask to see a sample of the reporting form before I shelled out any money. A detailed analysis would allow you to see if your child has trouble with adding fractions or decimals, spelling words with “ie”, or making inferences when reading. As the homeschooling

teacher/parent you probably already know this information, but if you are going to test you might as well get something more out of it than a grade equivalency.

Another type of test that homeschoolers some times use in lieu of a standardized test is a diagnostic test. The test that Alpha Omega sells is an example. These tests can be useful in placing a child in a particular curriculum, but these tests are not standardized.

Each spring, I administer standardized tests for several weeks. I always have very mixed feelings about it, but I do this as a service to our community. I think that testing is a part of the real world and I want our kids to be prepared for it. With the younger children I like for them to come in a day early and meet each other and get used to my house. I had four little second grade boys several years ago and they were quite interested in each other’s families, houses, dads. They became friends.

We always try to have a relaxed atmosphere and have snack breaks and usually a kick ball game in the cul de sac each day. (I always try to let my neighbors know in advance what we are doing, but they are used to seeing kids coming and going from my house.) I always emphasis to the kids that there will be things they may have not seen on the tests and that only myself and their parents get the results. I tell them that the test will just help their mom choose curriculum and that it is really more of a test on mom then on them!

I do spend time in consultation with each parent. We look over the results, but spend a good bit of time talking about methods of instruction, learning styles, and ideas for curriculum. Usually if a child scores poorly in a particular area, it is because that area was not covered, or the questions were asked in a way that was very unfamiliar to the students.

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