Standardized tests are designed to show a student’s skills and abilities at a given point in his or her schooling in relation to other children of the same age in schools across the state and the nation. For home school parents, testing will show your student’s learning progress and help you identify areas where your child’s may need extra support.

What are standardized tests?

A standardized test is a test in which all the questions, format, instructions, scoring and reporting of scores are the same for all test takers.

  • Standardized tests are developed by educational testing experts. They are carefully constructed and items are selected after trials for appropriateness and difficulty, to make sure the results are accurate and meaningful.
  • All students who take the same version of a standardized test will have the same conditions and the same amount of time to complete the test.
  • Standardized tests usually assess student skills and knowledge on a broad level and may test all academic areas at the same time (math, reading, science, etc.)

Are there different kinds of standardized tests?

There are two basic kinds of standardized tests, aptitude and achievement tests, which are used for a variety of purposes with both children and adults. Aptitude tests measure general knowledge and learning skills, such as reasoning or problem solving. Achievement tests measure specific knowledge and skills in particular subject areas. The standardized tests required for home schooled students are academic achievement tests. These tests are designed to measure the things that a student knows and can do. Tests approved for assessment of home school students include:

  • Tera Nova CAT/3 Test
  • Iowa Tests of Basic Skills / Tests of Achievement and Proficiency
  • Stanford Achievement Battery

Public school tests such as the OAKS test or Smarter Balanced test are not acceptable for home school testing.

The tests approved for home school students are norm-referenced. Norm-referenced tests measure basic concepts and skills commonly taught in schools throughout the country. These tests are not designed to measure a specific curriculum, but rather the knowledge generally taught at a particular grade level. Results from norm-referenced tests compare a student’s performance to a national reference group (the “norm”) of students at the same grade. Results on these tests are usually reported in a percentile ranking, which reflects a student’s ranking nationally among the norm for that grade level.

What achievement tests can and cannot do

Remember that a standardized achievement test cannot measure the sum total of your child’s progress. It is only one assessment tool designed to measure a certain set of skills.

Achievement Tests Can:

  • Measure your child’s ability to recall certain facts, basic skills, and concepts common to the grade tested.
  • Compare your child’s scores with other students’ scores.
  • Assess your child’s year-to-year development of learning, if the same test is used for several years.
  • Help you determine your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses, as well as the effectiveness of your curriculum, teaching methods, or emphasis, when results are combined with your own observations.

Achievement Tests Can’t:

  • Tell you if your child has achieved academically to the level of his ability.
  • Measure your child’s many other skills and abilities not on the test.
  • Replace your own informed evaluation of your child’s knowledge and skills, gained from your daily observation of his work and more thorough and frequent review questions.

Interpreting the score

Raw Scores
A raw score is the number of items answered correctly on a given test. Raw scores by themselves have little or no meaning. A child’s Raw Score (number correct) is compared to the original group of students of the same age who first took the test. The averages of this original group are called the “Norms.” Norm-referenced test scores compare a child’s raw score to the norm group. Next, a child’s raw scores are converted into scaled scores, grade equivalents, percentiles, and stanines.

Scaled Score
A scaled score is a mathematical transformation of a raw score. Scaled scores are useful when comparing test results over time. Most standardized achievement test batteries provide scaled scores for such purposes. Several different methods of scaling exist, but each is intended to provide a continuous score scale across the different forms and levels of a test series.

This is the most commonly misunderstood term in interpreting test scores. The first digit represents the year of the grade level and the digit after the decimal represents the month of that grade level. If a 2nd grader gets a 5.4, it does not mean the child is ready for 5th grade. It just means that an average 5th grader would have scored as well on the same test. It also lets you know the 2nd grader mastered the material very well and answered most of the questions correctly.

Percentile Ranking
This score ranks individuals within a group on a scale of 1 to 99 with 50 being average. There is not a 100th percentile because a child can’t do better than himself. A percentile rank of 75 means the student scored better than 75 percent of the other students in his or her norm group, and 25 percent scored as well or better than your student. It does not mean the student got 75 percent of the items correct. Percentile does not refer to the percent of questions that were answered correctly.

This term comes from the combination of the words “standard of nine.” It rates a child’s achievement on a scale from 1-9 based on a coarse grouping of the scores. In general, a stanine of 1, 2, or 3 indicates below average achievement. A stanine of 4, 5, or 6 indicates average achievement, while 7, 8, or 9 indicate above average.

Things to consider when a child obtains low test scores

If a home school student does not meet the 15th percentile, the student will be required to test again in a year. If the result of the second test shows a declining score, further steps may be necessary. Students wishing to participate in interscholastic activities with the resident public school must achieve at least the 23rd percentile on achievement testing.

What do you do when a child scores low, but above the 15th percentile? Or low in just one or two subject areas? These tests are not perfect measures of what individual students can or cannot do or of everything, students learn. Your child’s scores on a particular test may vary from day to day, depending on whether your child guesses, receives clear directions, follows the directions carefully, takes the test seriously, and is comfortable in taking the test. Always compare the test result to your own observations. If the low score is consistent with your evaluation of your child’s skill, develop a plan to strengthen this skill.

Most importantly, when reacting to low scores, remember that scores have nothing to do with a child’s innate worth and do not measure many important things that your child knows and can do. Your reaction, positive or negative, will influence the child’s sense of self-worth and anxiety on future tests. You may want to praise areas of strength and the skills of determination and perseverance, make a plan to improve any areas of weakness, and remind your child that testing is just one part of their education.