Homeschool testing services offer a range of testing options, but it can be challenging to contrast and compare them. Here we lay out your homeschool testing options and offer advice about how to make the best choice for your family.
Age of Homeschool Testing Options
Most tests available to homeschool families are nationally-normed standardized tests intended to be used at the end of the year in public schools. Now that public schools end the year with state tests, these nationally-normed tests are not used as often, and many have been discontinued, while others are updated less frequently. Because of this, many of the tests available to homeschool families are quite old.
We are proud to offer MAP Growth by NWEA, an award-winning interim assessment currently taken by 1 in 5 US school children. Because MAP Growth is a research-based assessment that’s delivered online, it can easily be updated and improved.
What are Norms and Why Do They Matter?
Norms are an important part of scoring standardized tests. If a child takes a traditional classroom test, their score will usually tell you what percentage of the questions they were able to answer correctly. If they answer everything correctly, they will get 100%. If they miss one out of four questions, they’ll get 75%, etc. When standardized tests are scored, the child’s performance is compared to the results of other kids in the same grade at the same time of year who participated in the norming study. The group used for comparison is called the norm group. If a child performs better than everyone in the norm group, they would be in the 99th percentile. If they perform better than half the kids in the norm group, they would be in the 50th percentile, etc.
If the norm group is a good representation of the child’s age-mates, then percentile ranking can give useful information about how the child is performing compared to their traditionally schooled peers. Reputable test publishers are careful to assemble norm groups that represent school populations at the time of publication. However, if a lot of time has passed since the norming study was conducted, the percentile rankings can be misleading, because kids are taught more math now than they were decades ago. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that an average 4th-grade math score in 1990 would be in nearly the bottom fifth today and an average 8th-grade math score from 1990 would be in the bottom third today. If your child has taken a standardized test and you’ve gotten results that seemed unreasonably high, out-of-date norms may be the explanation.
MAP Growth offers two kinds of high-quality norms—performance norms, which show how your child’s performance compares to other children in the same grade and season, and growth norms, which show how your child’s academic growth compares to other kids of the same grade, season, and performance level. Growth norms can be particularly useful for kids who are gifted, have special needs, or both because they give you as the educator a better idea of what to expect of a kid like yours.
Timed vs. Untimed
The difference between timed and untimed homeschool testing is simple—timed tests have a time limit, while untimed tests do not. If the goal of testing is to measure what your child can do, rather than how quickly they can do it, an untimed test is a better choice. In addition, because homeschool kids are less accustomed to working with strict time limits, untimed tests can be more comfortable for them. Sometimes homeschool families will select a timed test, and then administer it as if it were untimed. This can be appropriate for some students with special needs, but if the student wouldn’t qualify for an accommodation, it’s a form of cheating that will likely lead to a higher score than is accurate. If you prefer an untimed test for your child, we recommend choosing a test that’s intended to be untimed, like MAP Growth.
Adaptive vs. Fixed
When students take an adaptive test, the difficulty of the questions adapts based on the student’s performance. This means the test becomes more difficult when questions are answered correctly and less difficult with incorrect answers. Because the difficulty of the questions adjusts to provide the right amount of challenge to all students, adaptive tests are more accurate than traditional fixed tests, where all students answer the same questions.
MAP Growth adapts within each subject, finding your kid’s achievement level within 4-5 sub-areas. This gives them a truly tailored assessment and gives you valuable information about their strengths and weaknesses.
Homeschool Testing Formats
Most homeschoolers take standardized tests on a computer or on paper. Testing on paper requires scheduling testing around when the testing service has booklets available, waiting for the materials to arrive, dealing with used materials, filling in the bubbles, and then waiting for the results (sometimes for weeks).
Taking MAP Growth with Homeschool Boss is convenient and simple for parents. Your kids test on a laptop, Chromebook, or iPad in your home. MAP Growth K–2 is designed for pre-readers with audio-support and a kid-friendly format. For older students with special needs, we offer Text-to-Speech and other built-in tools designed to help them test independently. Once your child has completed a subject test, you will immediately receive their RIT score, and 1-2 days after testing is complete, you get our detailed score report with 30-60 pages of information you can put to use immediately.