Testing Basics

Testing Basics

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At this time of year, many parents are thinking about how to assess their children’s progress. The first step is to determine your own state’s testing requirements, if there are any. The law may require that you periodically demonstrate academic progress. Some statutes mandate standardized testing, while others may allow for a teacher letter or some other form of evaluation.

Even if your state’s law does not dictate testing, you may want to conduct a more formal assessment for your own purposes, whether for end-of-year proof of progress or for baseline testing when removing a child from a conventional school setting.

Testing Resources (free downloadable pdf of commonly used tests, providers, and more)

Consider Your Options

The method you choose for your child will depend upon your state’s legal requirements, if applicable, as well as your family’s philosophical preference.

Consider also the format that will best reflect your child’s true progress: While a visual learner may test well on paper, a hands-on or auditory learner may be better assessed by an evaluation or a test utilizing personal interaction, rather than a paper-and-pencil test. In that case, you might choose to administer a standardized test first, leaving time for a follow-up if the results don’t match what you’ve witnessed in his day-to-day progress, or you may opt for an untimed test to reduce testing anxiety.

Choose a Test

Standardized tests are developed by commercial test publishers to provide a snapshot of the academic skills and abilities of a large sampling of students of the same grade level; examples include the Stanford, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, California Achievement Test, and Terra Nova, to name a few. (See more information in Which Test is Best?). 

While most tests are the paper-and-pencil variety, more companies are offering online or computerized versions, as well.

What about Common Core?

Currently, although most standardized tests are being revised to align with Common Core standards, homeschoolers should find the revised tests no more challenging than earlier tests. However, for nationally normed, standardized testing that is not aligned to Common Core standards, look for norm dates of 2010 or earlier. You can also check the Homeschool Resource Road Map testing page for a key to aligned and independent testing.

Know the Requirements and Deadlines

If your state’s laws or regulations require testing or assessments, pay close attention to the details of those requirements; various aspects of testing and assessment are handled differently from state to state. If there are any deadlines, keep in mind that ordering a test may take some time, administering it will take some time, and getting the results back will take some time. Know which scores are required by your state and in what format they should be reportedwhen in doubt, contact HSLDA’s legal staff or your state organization. Plan ahead so you arent caught by surprise.

Let’s face itwhen the results come in, you often feel like those results are yours, not your child’s! So how can you lessen the anxietyfor you and your student?

Prepare Your Student

The test will have questions ranging from below the testing grade level to well above grade level (that’s how they can tell if your student is above grade level), so it is important for your child to understand that you do not expect him to know all the answers. Otherwise, he may panic when he encounters material with which he is not familiar. As parents, we must remember that if and when we test our children in everyday studies, we do it to check that they have learned all the material presented and we expect (at least hope for?) a score of 100.

Consequently, it is critical that the child understands that we don’t expect him to know all the answers on this test, but we simply want to find out how many he does know, that some of them aredeliberatelytoo hard for him, and he should just do his best on the ones that are familiar.

If you would prefer some practice or prep materials to help your child understand the format of the test and to become more familiar and more comfortable with testing, many of the companies listed in the Testing Resources list (at the bottom of this post) do offer such materials. (Be aware that these are not primarily to prepare your child for the content so much as with the format.)

Testing Resources (free downloadable pdf of commonly used tests, providers, and more)

Test with Integrity

Regardless of the testing mechanism you choose, it is important that you test with accuracy and integrity. Please honor the time limits on the test; if a timed test is too stressful for your child, consider an untimed test (such as the Stanford 10, the PASS Test, or Academic Excellence’s CAT) or another method of assessment, if possible.

If you deviate from the instructions for any reason, you must annotate this for the scorers; otherwise, any results will be skewed, and this is not to your child’s benefit in the long run. If your child needs accommodations, just check in with the test provider to ask how they’d like it annotated. And if your child is not reading well yet, some tests allow for the non-reading-skills parts to be read aloud to the student, or offer audio help. (See the test provider list for more details.)

Following directions completely and faithfully helps to preserve this in-home option for homeschooling parents.

Avoid “Teaching to the Test”

How can you prepare your child without “teaching to the test?” According to Riverside Publishing, “The ITBS [Vicki adds: as well as other tests] measures basic skills that range from facts and conventions through higher-order skills, not just minimum skills. Since [The Iowa] Tests were conceived nearly sixty years ago, the authors have consistently defined ‘basic skills’ as a wide range of skills including applying information, making inferences, evaluating, explaining, and other higher-order skills. By grade 8, over half of the test questions measure these higher-order skills. . . Therefore, home and school activities need to include a wide range of basic skills appropriate to the childs age/grade.

The developers at Riverside suggest that, rather than relying only on rote learning materials, parents balance their reading program by integrating phonics with the written and spoken word to help children become successful readers and writers. Math programs that focus on concepts and problem-solving and then integrate these skills with the necessary computational skills are much more likely to improve children’s math skills than rote computation activities alone. The best preparation for taking any achievement test includes a well-rounded program of study: not only desk work, but hands-on activities and experiences to give a student “hooks” on which to hang his future learning.

Again, the Testing Resources pdf list at the end of this article does include some sources of optional test prep materials to help your child become more familiar and more comfortable with testing–but they are primarily to help with format, not with content.

What Do the Scores Mean?

Most providers have sample results reports, so you can get an idea of what the scores will look like. Although we often think that standardized tests indicate how our child compares academically to grade-level expectations, they actually indicate how our child compares academically to other kids at his grade level who took the same test on a given date (the norming date for the specific edition of the test).

The percentile ranking tells how your child did compared to others – a score of 75th percentile means that your child scored as well or better than 75 out of 100 students in the norming group who took the same test. It does not mean that your child got only 75 percent of the questions right.

The stanine ranking (STAndard NINE) tells where your child’s score fell on a 9-part standard curve. The 1st-3rd stanines would be below average, the 4th-6th would be average, and the 7th-9th would be above average.

The grade equivalent (example: 7.2 GE) simply means that a child in that grade/month (second month of seventh grade) would likely have done as well as your child did. It does not mean that your child is on a seventh grade level (unless he is a seventh grader and scored as such). It does indicate to you that your fourth grader is doing well, or that your tenth grader probably needs some extra help.

(Caveat: Hold standardized test scores loosely:  Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality)

Keep the Results in Perspective

Remember that a test or evaluation is just one “snapshot” of his academic progress and of your child as a person. He is more than the sum of his test results! This time of year can be a wonderful reminder to thank God for this uniquely gifted child He has given youand to trust Him to continue to guide your choices and approaches.


Originally published here 2021; updated 2023.


A few more tools for you:

Which Test is Best?

Evaluations & Portfolios

Skills checklists (at the end of the article)

Testing Resources (free downloadable pdf of commonly used tests, providers, and more)

Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality

What Records Should You Keep? (including: What to include in a portfolio)

Grading and other assessment

“The Work of a Child” by Andrew Pudewa

 “They’re Learning!”  by Rachel Ramey

Lessons Learned – A free self-survey to help you determine how this year went, and if you should make any adjustments for next year

The Animal School (below) — A video reminder that your child is uniquely gifted!


The test that matters most:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”    2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV 1984)




Nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. Please consult HSLDA or your state organization for more information on your state’s homeschool requirements.



Adapted from Home Education 101 and from a Feb 2017 HSLDA newsletter by this author

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