Testing Unschoolers?

This and that about how testing can be a problem for Unschoolers

If You Cannot Avoid Standardized Tests...

...then just invalidate the results.

Here is a short piece from the February 2000 issue of Home Education Magazine's online newsletter (from the days when online newsletters were used). They unfairly called this "Sandra Dodd Cheats on Tests." I never did! I'm simply and subversively recommending that in the absence of the opportunity to avoid them altogether, the second best option might be invalidating them.

On the topic of testing: I have a very serious suggestion which will seem like a joke, but I'm absolutely soberly recommending this:


Don't cheat to get a better score or a worse score. Just invalidate the test either by taking too long, or making a pattern with all the answer marks in odd-numbered sections, or using dice to decide anything for which the answer isn't absolutely obvious to the child.

If the parent and child both know in advance that the scores could not POSSIBLY actually begin to attempt to reflect the child's "actual" knowledge or intelligence or aptitude or value, then that number will lose its juju and its ability to harm the child-parent relationship.

Of all the things I believe strongly, one which has changed my life as profoundly as any one other belief is my personal knowledge that test scores can and do (can't fail to) affect the treatment a child receives at his parents' hands. High scores, low scores, average scores—no matter. Parents cease to treat the child as his original, known self and color him soul deep with that number.

My life would have been different. My husband's life would have been different, without those 5th and 8th grade ITBS scores. I venture to say without even knowing who is reading this that your life would have been different, and specifically I believe your life would have been better, had not you been branded with a number on your "permanent record" (there's a big mean scary joke, the "permanence" and important parts) as a young innocent ten or thirteen year old full of potential, at some unknown point on a learning curve which might soon be at its settled-out point, or might just be beginning.

Copyright © 2000, Sandra Dodd

Quote from an article I wrote in 2003:

There is a group of homeschoolers that generally tries not to test their children at all. Because a test score is never ignored, tests affect the relationship between parent and child, and many unschoolers want to preserve their child's journey to adulthood unmeasured, uncompared, and whole. It might seem crazy from the outside, but the disadvantage of testing is real.

Each tree grows from a single seed, and when a tree is growing in your yard what is the best thing you can do for it? You can nurture it and protect it, but measuring it doesn't make it grow faster. Pulling it up to see how the roots are doing has never helped a tree a bit. What helps is keeping animals from eating it or scratching its bark, making sure it has water, good soil, shade when it needs it and sun when it needs it, and letting its own growth unfold peacefully. It takes years, and you can't rush it.

So it is with children. They need to be protected from physical and emotional harm. They need to have positive regard, food, shade and sun, things to see, hear, smell, taste and touch. They need someone to answer their questions and show them the world, which is as new to them as it was to us. Their growth can't be rushed, but it can be enriched.

Some Thoughts about Homeschooling—Sandra Dodd, 2003

Other ideas:

Subj: Re: [Unschooling-dotcom] How to satisfy State requirements with an unschooling approach.
Date: Monday, January 6, 2003 . . . .
I am interested in knowing how "unschoolers" handle the requirements of their state in regards to end of the year testing or evaluations. Have many people joined a private organization to handle their legal requirements or do many use an evaluator? I am homeschooling my only child who is 6 years old. I fully agree with an "unschooling" approach, but I am uncertain about the best approach when it comes to the State.
Depends on what the state requirements are. Here in VA we must provide results from a test every August. There are several ways round that for the creative mind. Parents can buy and administer the test then send it to the company to be marked. All the state wants is a piece of paper with results on above the 23rd Stanine. They get that bit of paper but I don't test my kids.

We can also put our kids in whichever 'grade' we feel is appropriate and test accordingly. Mine are always in Grade 1 and last year we had a blast filling in the grade one tests, making a pattern with the circles. Each test had a different pattern on the score chart yet each test scored in the 60th centile. Not bad 🙂


An account of a problem:

I'm not naming the name of this person, but the story is well worth reading:
I had written, in a discussion:
I don't think you will treat her the same way afterwards, whether the score is low, medium or high, and that's a shame. But that's how people are.
A response:
When I was 9 (in 4th grade) we took an IQ test and my parents would not let me see the results. All of my friends knew their scores, but I didn't. I was so mad that I wasn't allowed to know! I was sure my best friend scored higher than me (she always did), so at the time I just wanted to know how close I got to her score!

Years later I found the IQ test results in a folder my mom kept of all of my achievements and I asked her about why they wouldn't let me know the score. Turned out that they didn't want me to brag or have a big head about my score because it was (what they considered) high. I don't remember it now but I don't really think it was even all that high, not genius level or anything. Surely they already knew I was "smart" by age 9? So a high score should not have been a surprise. I've always wondered what that was about.

At the time though, I thought it was because I hadn't scored well enough and they were disappointed. I thought they were protecting me from my failure. From then on I had an internal voice telling me I was not good at test taking. Therefore I became not good at test taking. If I did well, I figured the test must have been easy if even *I* could score well on it! If I scored poorly, I wasn't surprised, since I was not good at taking tests. (I think I still knew I was smart, but somehow was OK that no test could accurately prove it.)

I was a wreck by the time I had to take the SATs! Top that off by having to take it in a strange town (where my cousin was getting married) at a strange school far from home. I didn't know my way around or know anyone there and was so completely nervous about that, plus the actual test, plus the wedding, plus the knowledge that all of my friends were standing around together before taking their tests at our school. The whole thing was incredibly cruel.

So I scored over 1000, but nothing impressive. I thought I should have done better and blamed it on the extenuating circumstances. Plus the known fact that I am just not a good test taker. 😉

More on Tests

2022 note: There might be better resources now, but this used to be information people needed.

Try NOT to test, but for historical purposes, this used to be up in the middle of the page above.

POSSIBLE test sources. If you're required to test and can self-administer, you might try to get one from these sources (info from various people and unverified):
Try Family Learning Organization at http://www.familylearning.org/ I think the CAT runs about $35.

I found a site that offers a test when I thought I was going to have to go that route. Hope it helps. http://www.baysideschoolservices.com

Seton school also has them, and you don't have to have a Bachelor's degree to give it. Seton is also cheaper I think and has no time limits on when you have to have it back to them. Last I heard, they will send it to you, and score it for you for $25.

In the days when New Mexico required tests people could batch-test kids in a meeting place, or individually at home, but they only had one option on home-testing, and that was to get the test from Bob Jones University.

IF you have to test and can test at home and must use a standardized test, use google.com to find a test. Enter one of the organizations or sites above, and the word test and I hope your task isn't too hard. Whenever you read this, there might be more and better options than there are now, and I don't want to give outdated information as fact on something I really object to anyway.

Later note: Find locals and ask what they're using. See if a portfolio is an option, or evaluation by a professional, in that jurisdiction.