One of the most common questions I get asked is whether to choose testing or assessing at the end of the year. Washington State Law states that every child eight years old and older must be tested annually, or assessed by a Washington State certified teacher. My answer to the question comes only through knowing the child. I’m hoping I can shed some light on this topic and help you determine the best option for your child.
You may first be asking, “What is the difference between a test and an assessment, anyway?” The test refers to a standardized test such as the California Achievement Test (CAT) or Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), among others. The test asks a variety of questions, with multiple-choice answers. The test scores are compared to other students in the same grade. An assessment (also called non-test assessment), doesn’t involve the student directly. A teacher will take sample work from all subjects and assess the student’s progress through the year, and evaluate their skills and academic level.
A qualified teacher usually administers standardized tests over a 2-3 day period. Each subject is tested separately, and timed. Some students do just fine with the pressure of a timed test. For others, test-taking anxiety interferes with their ability to perform well. Because the test is timed, the student may not be able to complete the test, leaving some questions un-answered. As a result, those answers will be marked as incorrect. All of these factors, and more, affect the accuracy of the test results. This is one reason these tests are not favored by many. However, they can give a glimpse into the approximate grade level the student is working at. Over years, you can also track progress, as well as see the subject areas that need more focus.
A non-test assessment must be completed by a Washington State certified teacher. Every teacher will have their own way of approaching assessments, however the purpose of the assessment remains the same. The teacher will examine work samples from the student, and write a written commentary on the student’s skills, and areas of improvement. This can be very helpful information for parents in planning the next year. The lack of pressure placed on the student to perform makes this a favored option for many homeschool families. One thing to note is that for an accurate assessment to be made, it is important for work throughout the year to be well organized and stored (such as in a portfolio).
In the end, there is no wrong way to meet this state requirement. Based on the personality and experiences of your child, you can decide which option would best meet your needs. There are local and online teachers and websites that offer tests or assessments; you should be able to locate someone in your area and within your budget.