Teaching to the Test as Homeschoolers
Updated: Aug 26, 2021
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. – Proverbs 18:15
As long as I can remember, a major concern with public school has been that they just teach to achievement tests. It can sometimes feel like our kids just have to memorize stuff to regurgitate on tests without really learning anything. Unfortunately, if you have a homeschooler that plans to attend college then I have some news for you; you have to teach to the test too. This certainly doesn’t look the same as teaching to the test in public school but it is a reality just the same. I want to share with you the main reason why testing is important and a few tips for preparing...
· It’s important to back up your transcript with great test scores. Homeschooling is more and more accepted and homeschoolers are actually being sought out by colleges but straight A’s on a transcript made by mom doesn’t generally cut it if your kid wants to get into a competitive college. On top of that stellar homeschool transcript, I know my son will need some good test scores to validate the grades he earns at home. I know one thing homeschoolers like is not having to take standardized tests but they really will be important for your kids if they are looking for admission to a competitive school or scholarships, so just hear me out if that sounds like your child(ren).
· Take tests early and often. One important thing we learned at a homeschool conference was that getting kids comfortable with the testing process early is important for scoring well on the SAT/ACT. Test taking on its own can be nerve-wracking so when your child sits down to take the test when it really counts, around junior year, it’s important that they already know what to expect. Not having first time test jitters means they can just focus on answering the questions. We did this with our daughter by having her start to take the PSAT her freshman year. At the time, her guidance counselor wasn’t really on board with it because she was afraid it would discourage her if she got a low score on a test designed for juniors. I explained to her what we were trying to accomplish and that our daughter was fully expecting to not do well and understood she was just getting comfortable with the test. Her counselor was still apprehensive but did let her sit with the juniors to take the test and she actually scored higher than a lot of the juniors.
Along the same lines, we decided to have our son take a standardized test before his 7th grade year so he could get comfortable with testing and to just see if we had any “holes” in our learning. Our homeschool association administers the IOWA Basic Skills test every year so that’s what we decided to go with. It is a test that is administered to public school students too so we knew it would most likely be testing him on things we hadn’t learned yet or had learned a while ago. We talked with him before hand to make sure he knew we were just using the test as a tool in our learning and talked about areas that they might test on that he hadn’t learned yet. He actually did really great on the test and his lowest scores were in the subjects we knew would be a problem, mainly social studies was an issue because the average 6th grade public school student learns world history and we had been studying US History to go along with family vacations we had planned. His scores were still above grade level and we'll take care of the World History piece next year.
The most important thing early on is to manage expectations for the test. Make sure your child understands why they are taking the test and what you are hoping to get out of it.
· Pick curriculum that will teach challenging concepts needed on tests. Here’s where it gets a little tricky for homeschoolers who like flexibility in learning and not “teaching to a test”. I’m not saying you need to pick dry, boring curriculum that strictly prepares your student for a standardized test but it is important to pay attention to what options are out there. When I am working on a curriculum plan for high school or looking into new curriculum for any subject, ones that talk about preparing for PSAT, SAT, CLEP, etc go on my short list. I also look for curriculum that has an option to do extra work to make it an honors level course. That is certainly not my only criteria but if I have it narrowed down to a couple of options; that will put a curriculum over the top. For subjects we have to learn anyway, it’s important to me that we make the most of it and that our son is being challenged so he will work to his potential. I know he is capable of challenging work and that he wants to go to college, preferably on a full scholarship so helping him prepare for that future is my job as his mom and teacher.
We’ve identified some curriculum that fits the bill for preparing for college
o Dr. Shormann DIVE into Math we just started using this curriculum for Algebra I/Geometry ½. All of the web-based curriculum from Algebra I on up is geared towards teaching concepts needed for PSAT/SAT, ACT & CLEP. It is also designed so that it can be used as an Honors course if taught on an accelerated schedule. So far, we like it fine, it’s mostly been review since we had already started Algebra I with Teaching Textbooks but I feel like it is taught in an effective manner. The jury is still out on whether it adequately prepares for tests.
o IEW High School Essay Intensive is on our list for 9th grade. It covers essay writing in general along with a section on the SAT essay, the ACT essay and College Application essays. All of those things are incredibly important to us. I feel like the IEW curriculum in general is challenging and will prepare students for any writing needed for tests but will also prepare them for college level writing.
o Notgrass History and Apologia Science are both challenging courses in our opinion. According to their FAQs, neither are designated AP by the College Board nor are they tailored to the CLEP exam but students of both have successfully passed both after completing the curriculum and doing additional study with a test prep book.
· Utilize test prep resources. If your child is within a year of taking an important test such as the ACT or SAT then now is the time to start preparing. You can enroll in a test prep course but my daughter has found that utilizing Khan Academy and getting test prep books have worked as well as the prep course she took before her first PSAT. Khan Academy offers Math and Reading/Writing practice as well as full-length practice tests. Your child can put in the date of the test and Khan will tailor a practice schedule for them so they can practice daily and take practice tests leading up to the test date. While Khan is tailored to the SAT, it can still be utilized to prep for the ACT as well. We’ve also purchased prep books from Amazon which will provides tips for taking the tests and practice exams.
· Freshman Year for Free A resource that has recently come to our attention is Modern States. Students are able to make an account on their website and sign up for free review courses in subjects that have CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests available. Each video course takes about 4-6 weeks to complete. Currently, once you have completed the course, Modern States will give you a voucher to pay for your CLEP test (a savings of about $80). The idea is that you should be able to CLEP out of your first year of college “core” classes. Keep in mind, this is not a stand-alone course, for instance, after completing a US History course you should be able to take the Modern States review course and then be ready to pass the test. There is a CLEP Study Guide with an overview of what is on each test. I plan to blog a little more in depth about Modern States after we try a course this summer.
I know using the words “standardized tests” as a homeschooler is tantamount to using dirty words but if your homeschooler has aspirations of going to college, testing will play an important role in getting them there. Even if your child is undecided about what their future holds, you should error on the side of being over prepared. You definitely don’t want your senior to suddenly decide he wants to go to college and not be prepared to take the tests needed to get him there. It will take a little more time but as long as you are challenging your child all along, then half the battle has already been fought.
Have you or do you plan to have your child take a standardized test?