My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers

Here’s my son a week after taking the test, super proud of a fish he just caught!

This year my nine-year-old is in the third grade, and according to the law in Georgia, I’m required to have him tested every three years, starting in the 3rd grade. Fortunately, we do not have to show the results to anyone, so it seemed like a good way to assess how he’s doing. But as I started thinking about having to administer the test, and I went over a test prep book with him, I started to realize why teachers in our public schools are frustrated with all the testing going on. This was taking valuable time away from real learning!

And, frankly, I already know where he’s strong and where he’s weak. I am the closest person to him, teaching him all the fundamentals that he would be taught in traditional school. I know what he gets, and I know what he needs more work on, or what we haven’t gone over yet, and the test didn’t tell me anything new. So, it felt like a waste of our time to have to do this, but then again, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally assess how things are going, and unlike the public schools, we only have to do it every three years. I’m grateful for that!

I spent some time trying to research the different test options, and I mostly came up empty. At best, I found brief anecdotes by parents who had used a particular test and liked it or didn’t like it for whatever reason. There were no details about how to order and what testing my child would really look like, so that’s why I’m writing this post.

Because it seemed like the easiest to order and administer, I picked the Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS test), which is produced by Hewitt Homeschooling. This test is similar to other standardized tests, but it’s made for homeschoolers so that it is easy to administer in their homes. Unfortunately, it’s not approved in every state, but the state of Georgia (and some others) has approved it, and I’m glad because it was easy to order and administer at home.

The first thing I liked about ordering the test, besides the simple online order form, was that I could pick the date I wanted the company to ship the test. So, if you’d like to get the ordering out of the way, but you know you won’t administer the test for another month or two, you can have them ship it a week before you want to use it. You have four weeks to use the test and then return it to Hewitt Homeschooling to have it scored. (You have to do this with every standardized test. You also have to pay for them in case you didn’t know that, which I didn’t know either when I started homeschooling. The PASS test was $36 for one student.)

The test has three sections in reading, language arts and math. When you get the test, you’ll need to carefully read the instructions (but they aren’t complicated) and administer a pre-test to determine what level of test to give to your child. (If you’ve used the test before, you won’t have to do this.) This is because each test booklet (reading, language arts and math) each contains all the levels, and they are numbered from approximately 1-25. (Or something like that — I don’t have the booklets anymore to refer to.) The levels DO NOT equal grade level.

The pre-test is simply 12 questions in each section. It took my son less than an hour to take the pre-test, and then I scored it, and there were instructions to tell me which level to give him for each subject. The instructions also tell you that you can read over the recommended level, and if you think it’s too hard or too easy, you can pick another level that you think is more appropriate for your child. It said a child should be able to answer at least 50%-90% of the questions correctly.

What I also like about the PASS test is that I didn’t have to time my son. He’s never taken a test before, so I really wasn’t sure how he’d feel about sitting there for a long time taking a test. But I took three days to administer the test, giving one section on each day. I let him take a 5-minute break half-way through each test. It took him about an hour to complete each section of the test. (I’m grateful he didn’t have to take all three sections on one day! Three hours would have been a long time.) But he had no problem taking the tests, especially since all it requires is shading in those little bubbles. He kept focused the whole time, and he told me he didn’t think they were too hard.

Once you’re finished, you have to return the bubble sheet with your child’s answers and another form to Hewitt Homeschooling. You need to use a cardboard mailer so that the answer sheet won’t get bent, and you’ll have to pay the postage. You sign a form stating that you will destroy the test booklets because they are under copyright law, and you should not show them to anyone else.

In a few weeks, Hewitt Homeschooling will send you your child’s scores, and not only do they give you your child’s raw score, they’ll give you a percentile of how your child did compared to other homeschoolers who took the same test, and on top of that, they’ll  give you a percentile of how your child did compared to a national standardized test. I have heard that other tests do not give you this much information, so it was helpful to see.

If you’re looking at the PASS test, I hope this was helpful to you. I’m happy to answer any other questions too.

 

Testing

Note: This column appeared in the April 22, 2015 edition of the Barrow Journal.

Next year, my son will be in the third grade, and as is required by the state of Georgia for homeschoolers, he will need to be tested at the end of that year in his academic studies. I have to use a nationally standardized test, but I can administer it in my home, and we keep the results for our own files. This is fine with me. It’ll be good to see where my son is at and what areas he may need help in.

Earlier this year I decided to buy a 2nd grade test prep book – not so much to prepare my son for what he needs to know on the test but to teach him how to take a test. I didn’t want to make him sit down and face those test sheets and “fill in the bubble” scantron without ever seeing them before. Our practice test workbook also comes with some test-taking tips, and those have been helpful too.

As I go through the book with my son, I’m grateful to see how easily he reads the questions and answers the questions. It certainly gives me peace of mind that he’s doing fine. But I’m glad that this is just a small piece of our day too. Although I go over the few things he doesn’t know, he is not learning much by practicing test taking.

I am also looking at the comprehensive tests – the reading section alone is almost fifteen pages long – and thinking about how much time my son will have to sit in one place to complete that. Even if I read the parts that are “listening,” it will be hard for him to sit still and concentrate for that long. It’s not that he can’t sit still – he can spend eight hours putting together complicated Lego kits, but reading short passages or “stories” he is not interested in is not going to reveal his ability to sit and concentrate. But maybe by the end of next year, it will be easier for him.

I do not let my kids do anything they want. I do formal lessons with them, but I also follow their interests and figure out what works for them because that’s the best way to learn. Every child should have an education tailored to his or her needs and interests. When it comes to doing the things they don’t want to do, I believe in going slow, letting maturity and a little practice ease them into doing the harder stuff like sitting still for long periods of time to take a test.

Because of this, I am very skeptical about standardized testing for young kids. I don’t see how those tests given in the public schools can measure a child’s true abilities or knowledge. I have seen my own son miss questions that he could have easily gotten correct only because he was getting tired. I was pushing him too hard. Luckily for us, I can slow down when I realize I’m going too fast for my son, but school kids are being pushed to learn things before they are ready for it just to pass tests.

Young children should not be required to do things they are not yet developmentally ready for. I have read about several studies saying that children learn best through play. It improves their executive function, which is a fancy term for certain cognitive processes such as an ability to work independently. The latest article I read was in the Washington Post titled, “Report debunks ‘earlier is better’ academic instruction for young children.” It says that the best early preschool programs “focus on social, emotional and intellectual goals rather than narrow academic goals.”

Some children learn how to read early. Others aren’t ready until seven or eight. Some children can sit still for long periods; others (often the boys) cannot. Some children need to learn through movement; others learn better by listening or seeing. When I was young I had to keep moving forward in math even when I didn’t get it. I did well enough to pass, but I’ve always dubbed myself as “bad at math.” What if someone had just taught it to me differently? And waited until I got a concept before moving on, even if that meant waiting a year?

I’m not the only one who feels this way. I am seeing complaints by teachers, who are not getting a chance to truly teach because of the push to “teach to the test.” There was that Ohio special education teacher who gave a shocking resignation right after winning a big teaching award. She was reported to have said, “I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere. I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment, if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”

Recently I interviewed a former teacher from Massachusetts for home / school / life magazine. (Spring 2015 issue.) She left the profession to homeschool her daughters, and when I asked her why she decided to homeschool, she said, “From being an education major (I graduated in 1999) to leaving the profession to have my daughter (in July 2006), so much had changed. The focus had shifted from teachable moments to teaching to the test (in a big, big way). As an educator my philosophy of education did not jive with what was taking place in our country’s schools, and I knew that it would be hypocritical for the girls to be part of a system that I did not agree with.”

This makes me understand why many parents are opting out of traditional school right now. There are about 2.2 million homeschooled students in the United States, and it is estimated that homeschooling is growing from 2-8% per year. That may not sound like much in the big scheme of things, but many parents ask me about homeschooling and tell me they are considering it among other options. When you see your child begin to hate learning, it is something to consider. Education should be about exploration and inquiry. Not cramming for tests.