Why We Don’t Participate in Standardized Testing

March and April tend to be “Testing” time in various parts of the U.S. From past experience with a charter school geared for individualized education and homeschooling, I understand the role standardized tests take in public school funding and benchmarking. And I recognize the value some homeschool families find in having their children take standardized tests. But we choose not to participate. 

Now, if we had to, we would. But we live in a state where standardized testing is not required for private schools (and homeschools). And quite frankly, standardized testing would not be an accurate benchmarking measurement for my children because we do not follow the same spiral course of study found in public schools. Instead we use a mastery approach.

Typcially, when I’ve mentioned  that we use a mastery approach vs. the spiral approach, I’m asked to explain. So, in case you are wondering, here’s the difference:

In a spiral approach, which is typical in American public schools’ course of study, students are exposed to information and skills repeatedly over time, building up knowledge and skill over time (usually across multiple grades). For example for math, children learn aspects of each operation in each grade.  When you are teaching a large group of children with varying abilities and different stages of developmental and cognitive growth this approach seems to make sense to compensate for the lack of ability to customize education for each individual student.

In a mastery approach to curriculum/education, students work on a topic until they demonstrate a “mastery” or understanding of the topic. Education is individualized and, in most cases, self-paced, building along the child’s developmental and cognitive growth as well as their personal motivation and interests. In the case of math, the mastery approach teaches the student addition and subtraction completely through before introducing multiplication and division.

Standardized testing, at the elementary level anyway, is usually designed assuming a spiral approach of education. As my children are educated using a customized, individualized mastery approach, testing their skills against their spiral-educated peers would  be comparing apples and oranges and not productive or an accurate measurement of their skill levels.

Later in the high school years, when a certain level of base knowledge should be expected for college bound students, we will participate in standardized testing. And I believe in some instances subject-specific testing is valid for my children.

For example, my 11 year old took the National Latin Exam this year. After two years of Latin study (one of which doing high school level work), I felt this was good experience for her and an interesting way to benchmark her level of knowledge against others who have studied Latin to the same level.

As homeschooler who has the option of participating or not in standardized testing, I don’t feel that our approach to education is a good match for the benchmarking typical standardized testing provides. Education is not a race with a finishing point. Instead it’s a continual process, one that should continue even after we accumulate the “base” level of knowledge expected by tradition public education.

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3 Responses to Why We Don’t Participate in Standardized Testing

  1. Cathy says:

    Good explanation between the difference between a spiral approach and a mastery approach. What math do you use?


  2. Shannon says:

    Hi Cathy! For elementary math, we use Mastering Mathematics by Letz Farmer as our core curriculum and use mathworksheetsite.com for extra practice and other resources like board games, puzzles, The Multiplication Coloring Book, and math edutainment software for extra practice. Mastering Mathematics is off the beaten path, but I really like the approach and have found it effective for both the kids that are slow in math and those who are gifted with math.

  3. Mrs. C says:

    Love this post. :]

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