Which test is best

Which Test is Best?

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One of the most frequent questions I get about testing is,

         “Which test should I use?

          Which one is best? 

          How do I choose 

          From the CAT, SAT, MAT, or Iowa Test?”

Well, maybe not in such Seussical style, but you get the idea! The CAT (The California Achievement Test), SAT (Stanford 10), Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT), and Iowa Test of Basic Skills … these are just a few of the many options available to home-educating parents for assessment of progress. How’s a parent to choose? Here are a few tips to help you decide.

What is your purpose in testing?

If you are testing as a diagnostic tool–for assessment or placement– you’ll want a test that gives fairly comprehensive results. If you are testing only to have a score to submit to satisfy statutory requirements, the basic category scores may be sufficient for you. Many test providers offer sample results reports so you can get an idea of what information you’ll receive back. For example, where one test may provide scores in reading, math problem solving, math computation, language mechanics, and language expression, another test may break those down even further to scores in math computation with fractions, then with decimals and whole numbers; capitalization, usage, punctuation, sentence structure, thinking skills, and more.

In general: For basic numbers to comply with a testing requirement, to confirm general grade level skills, or to show you any big discrepancies between subject areas, any test will work for you. For more detailed results that go beyond scoring but also give more diagnostic feedback on skills, possible areas to strengthen, and even strategy suggestions, you might look at the MAP or PASS tests, the CTP, or one of the skills tests from LetsGoLearn, but if you are also meeting a state requirement, you’ll want to confirm that these scores are accepted. (Test sources here.)

Will any statutory requirements influence your needs?

In most casesunless specified otherwise in your states requirementsthe basic battery of language arts and math is sufficient and will give you a basic battery composite score. Unless your state law mandates testing in the content areas of social studies or science, it is not generally advisable to spend your time or money on that optional portion of a test. Your child may or may not have studied the same content in social studies and science as the norm groupas opposed to language arts and math, which are skills subjects and usually track similarly from curriculum to curriculum. When in doubt, members should consult their HSLDA legal staff or their state organization.

Which test is the best fit for your child?

Consider the format that will best reflect your child’s true progress: While a visual learner may test well on paper using the fill-in-the-circles format, a hands-on or auditory learner may be better assessed by an evaluation or a test utilizing personal interaction, such as the Woodcock-Johnson, WRAT, or Brigance, rather than a paper-and-pencil test. In the latter case, some parents choose to administer a paper-and-pencil standardized test earlier in the season, leaving time for a follow-up interactive test or evaluation if the results don’t match what they’ve witnessed in his day-to-day progress. Another option is to choose an untimed test to reduce testing anxiety.

Do I have other options?

If your statute allows for alternative methods of assessment, consider an evaluation or portfolio assessment if standardized testing is not your preference. As always, you’ll want to consider any legal requirements before proceeding. If you will use an outside evaluator, it is helpful to contact her well in advance to be aware of any paperwork she’ll want you to save for her consideration during the year.

If you are testing for placement purposes only or for your own information and do not need to submit scores, consider a placement test, online assessment, or a scope-and-sequence checklist (such as those listed at the end of What Should I Be Teaching?) as a gauge of milestones achieved. For parents wanting a bit more guidance using a skills assessment, The Well-Planned Start booklets from Well-Planned Gal roll those three into one, with specific questions to evaluate your child’s skills.

What does this test tell you?

Check out Testing Basics for more information on testing, including how to prepare for the test and how to interpret the scores.

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 you-and to trust Him to continue to guide your choices and approaches.

For a list of commonly used tests, providers, and other testing resources, print out our free downloadable pdf of Testing Resources.




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 previously published HSLDA newsletter by this author.

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