“But how will I know if my child is where he should be?” That’s usually one of the first few questions prospective homeschool moms ask me. We always want to know if we are doing things correctly, if we are on target, if we are equipped for the task. Regularly assessing our children is one way that we can rest easier in the evenings. In addition, regular assessment provides documentation of learning, progress, and growth. Even if your state doesn’t require documentation, I think that it’s a great idea to have it on hand should the need to show growth ever arise.
1. First Determine Your Goal
Before you begin assessing your child's progress, an important step is to determine your goal in assessing. Is your goal for your child to be ahead of grade level? At grade level? Or is your goal to make sure that your child is progressing, regardless of grade standards?
I lean toward the progressing model. It’s not as important to me how quickly my children progress as long as they are steadily progressing.
If there is a sudden halt in progression, that’s when I am concerned. I prefer this method of assessment because not all children learn at the same rate, so comparing them with their peers simply based on the fact that they were born in the same year seems arbitrary.
Before you go any further, be sure to determine your goal in assessing your child. This will help you to know which assessments you will want to use in your homeschool.
2. Next Determine Your Grading Scale
Most of us are most familiar with the A, B, C, D, or F system of grading. This is a percentage based system. This system works well when you grade a paper by points, assigning each question a certain amount of points and deducting points for any questions the student missed. This works well when you emphasize memorizing facts. It also is the scale that is most widely used on high school transcripts.
In the elementary years, I prefer using a performance-based model that gives a grade according to how well you are doing on your goals. For example, with my elementary children, I use this scale:
- E (Exemplary)
- P (Proficient)
- B (Basic)
- BB (Below Basic)
This grading scale allows you to look at their performance on each individual goal. In this scale, your assessments are generally shorter because you’re simply looking to see if your child has mastered that particular goal.
For example, if my child has been working on long division, I might give them a page of three long division problems. If they get all three problems completely correct with no mistakes, I might assign them an Exemplary grade.
If I see that they’ve definitely got the idea, but they made a computation error on one of the problems, I’m going to assign them a Proficient score simply to remind them that being careful and double checking your math is important.
If the child gets the problems halfway correct, but seems to get hung up in the same place each time, I’m going to assign them a Basic score and we are going to go back to work on that skill until they earn a Proficient score.
Finally, if a child clearly doesn’t understand the concept in the least, you’ll give them a Below Basic score and this will be your signal to go back a little further and start back at the beginning. I have found this grading scale to work well with Sonlight Curriculum in the elementary and middle school years.
You can also use an even simpler version of the performance based scale, known as Pass/Fail or Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory. This is a really easy system of grading that is good for helping you know whether to progress or stop and reteach. It is especially helpful in the very early years such as preschool and kindergarten.
3. Finally Determine When You Will Assess
Public schools use four basic assessments that I am listing below. As homeschoolers, you will probably find that you don’t need that many assessments. You will likely keep close tabs on where your child is simply through working with them every day. However, for documentation purposes, you’ll want to use at least one of these forms of assessment.
Diagnostic testing is given before you begin a unit of study. This tells you what your child already knows. This is helpful at times because you will not waste time going over concepts your child already knows. However, you should also warn your child that it's perfectly okay if he or she doesn't know many answers.
Formative testing is assessing in the middle of a unit of study. For example, a quiz given in the middle of a study on fractions will give you an idea of how your child is progressing through the concept. This is formative testing.
Benchmark testing is assessing your child at the end of a unit of study. A chapter test in geography is an example of a benchmark test.
Summative testing is assessing your child at the end of the year. A standardized test is a good example of summative testing.
Sometimes a combination of tests is appropriate. Other times, you’ll only need one type. I have found that as a homeschooling mom with a very low teacher to student ratio, I tend to know where my kids are academically most of the time, so I hardly ever use diagnostic testing. I only give a standardized test every other year and only beginning in fourth grade. Mostly, I use benchmark testing, which, for me, includes a short, simple assessment at the end of a unit of study. This provides me with concrete documentation of my child’s learning throughout the year.