Before I can answer this question, I have to ask some questions of my own. First of all, who are my kids' peers? Are they the kids the same age that attend public or private school, other homeschoolers, or both? Secondly, are they keeping up with their peers in what? Academic subjects, character, sports, activities? Lastly, who is asking the question...the homeschooling parent, an inquisitive neighbor, or a judgmental relative?
There are too many angles to take on this question. Instead of addressing just one, I will be posting a series of several answers based on what information is being sought.
Part 1: Standardized Testing as a Baseline
For this first post, I will be addressing this question as it usually intended when asked by those who do not homeschool or by the unsure homeschool parent.
I've had this question once posed to me by someone who worked in the school district and was judgmental of our homeschooling. He might have just as well said, "Show me the scores!" This particular person knew no other language. I'm not one to show scores freely, but it is helpful to have knowledge of the scores and be able to say to such people, "We're doing just fine, thank you."
As for the unsure homeschooling parent, I've run into two scenarios. Often it is a new homeschooling mother who just wants to make sure her kids are at least learning as much as they would in the local school. The second scenario is when a father, usually one that is hands-off on the teaching, is wanting some sort of results assessment.
In either scenario, the inquirer is really asking, “How do you know you are doing at least as good as the public schools?” This revised question completely changes the criteria for answers. Public schools have different standards than my homeschool. However, while my homeschool may have different and/or higher standards, I am still interested in knowing how my kids fair against those public school standards since it is those measurements that are understood by those outside of homeschooling.
If the goal is to compare my homeschool to the local public school, then the measuring tools need to be the same as well. For this reason, I do opt to use standardized tests every year as a quick measuring tool and to have on file. Now, I have my opinions on standardized tests. They do have their place, but they aren't always completely accurate, whether those taking them are homeschooled or public schooled. There are many factors, including teaching to the test, experience in test taking, and time restrictions that alter results. All that aside, it is my first step toward assessing what our homeschool might look to someone else who puts a lot of faith into standardized testing.
There are quite a few options available to parents to test their homeschooled children.
The three most common standardized tests are:
- Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS)
- California Achievement Test (CAT)
- Standford Achievement Test (SAT)
Another option is:
Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS)
The PASS test was developed specifically for homeschoolers and is available through Hewitt Homeschooling. It is only available for grades 3-8. Two comparison scores a provided against both public schooled and the homeschooled groups. The result are also a comparison of those taking the same level test, rather than by age. This differs from the ITBS, CAT, and SAT and has potential advantages to be discussed in a future post. Another advantage to this test is that there are no time restrictions. One disadvantage to the PASS is that not as many have heard of it. If you are wanting the results for your own information, that likely will not matter. If you are wanting to use the results as evidence to your public school teacher mother-in-law that your kids are learning just as well at home as the kids in her classroom, you might be better off with a test she can recognize.
A less official assessment is to administer the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). The TAKS is a standardized test used in Texas public schools, taken by children in grades 3-11 each spring. Previous years and answer keys are available as a free download to all. You won't have official scoring, but will see how your kids fair against Texas' public schooled students.
Any of the above tests will give you an idea of how your children are generally doing with grade level material in comparison with others in the same grade. Depending on the reason for seeking out a comparison, this may be all the information that is needed to answer "Are my kids keeping up with their peers?".
My next post will address how to use standardized testing if your child is performing above or below their grade level by age.