Homeschooling parents, like other teachers, need to gauge the progress of their students. Some states require homeschooled students to take standardized tests to help gauge their progress against that of their peers, though the frequency and number of the required tests varies by state. Some homeschooling parents may also want to assess their child's grade level in case their child enters public schooling at some point or to ensure that their child is keeping up with his peers in public and private school. Most assessments are done in the areas of reading and math, because these are considered core skills that are foundational to learning.
Use Online Assessment Tools
Homeschoolers can take advantage of many free online assessment tools. For example, the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School offers three minute reading assessments. The assessment requires the student to read a passage while a parent records mistakes and self-corrections. When the child is done reading, the parent asks a series of questions to determine comprehension level and grade level competency. The San Diego quick assessment of Reading Ability provides lists of ten words. The student’s reading grade level is determined by the number of errors the child makes while reading the lists. For example, if the student misses two words from the fourth grade word list, and three from the fifth grade word list, the student would be considered to be at a fourth grade level for reading. For math assessment, parents can check out Goldstudent.com, which allows parents to generate grade level math assessment tests. If the student has mastered the material designated as part of a particular grade level, that student can move to the next level of assessments to determine where his knowledge is lacking.
Check with the Common Core Standards
The Common Core State Standards were developed by a panel of educators to establish a national standard for learning objectives. These standards present goals for learning at each grade level in each subject. To assess your child’s grade level, familiarize yourself with the standards. Check your child’s progress against them to determine whether or not she is proficient in each area. For instance, by the end of first grade, students should be able to “add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10.” If your child has mastered this concept, among others, she is proficient in the standards required by most states at that grade level.
An Informal Approach: The Five-Finger Rule
A simple and practical way to determine your child’s grade level in reading is to use the “five finger rule” applied to a reading level text. Reading level texts are books that have been evaluated by educators and labeled with a suggested grade level. You will see a notation that reads something like “RL 5.1,” usually on the bottom of the back cover. This means the book is considered to be at the reading level of a student in his first month of fifth grade. After choosing a book, have your child read a page out loud to you. For each word your child misreads, hold up one finger. If your child misreads five or more words, the book is above his grade level. If he misses only two or three words in that passage, you will know the child is reading at the grade level mentioned on the label.
For a more formal approach to assessment, standardized testing is an option -- and, in some states, a requirement. Standardized tests are administered and scored the same way for all students, with the supposition that this consistency results in a fair evaluation of student performance. Student test scores will be relative to other students in their grade level, generally determined by age. Many public and private schools allow homeschooling students to participate in standardized testing. Call schools in your area to see if they will accommodate your children during their testing dates.
Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.