To Test or Not to Test

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The first time our children took achievement tests after we started homeschooling, I remember feeling like I was the one being tested and that their scores would be my score.

Our children took achievement tests many times, even though I know that there is no way that an achievement test can test a child — not really. A child is so much more than a test — and that goes for any test.

For example, I’ve never seen a test for artistic ability. Perhaps that is because I don’t remember if we had tests when I took art in high school and that that class was so discouraging to me that I never even took an art class in college. How I longed to take some — even to major in art, but I was too scared. My high school teacher had convinced me that I didn’t “have it.” At least I had decided that whatever the “it” was that she wanted me to have was something I didn’t.

Funny thing is that I drew on my own in high school. Mother even let me paint my own early 70s design on one whole wall of my bedroom. I drew in college and when I was newly married and when I taught Sunday School and when I wanted to make a special gift for someone and when I wanted a unique Christmas card or something. But take a class in art? No, sirree. Not me. I didn’t have “it.”

I wasn’t a test giver when we were homeschooling. As I said, our children did do achievement tests several times, but I didn’t feel a need to give tests at home. My philosophy with grading my children went something like this:

  • I decided what my children had to do to complete a course Ray and I had decided they needed to have (with consultation of the state requirements).
  • I required our children to complete what I had said they had to do.
  • I insisted that they be diligent and creative and thorough in completing their assignments.
  • I assigned them A’s.

Isn’t an A the logical result of doing an excellent job of completing what the teacher has said must be completed? My method would probably sound simplistic to many people, perhaps even lenient. This is what is behind my thinking.

Our goal was to rear godly, compassionate, responsible, intelligent adults with a good work ethic who would contribute to their families, their church, and the world. We also had a long list of other traits that Ray and I believed were important and that we were working toward. We were their parents and we lovingly expected them to do what we said they had to do. We did not make our lists long and we did not let anyone else tell us what was on the list except God in His Word. Since His Word taught us to obey the laws of our government, our requirements included what the state said they had to include. Our goal was for each child:

  • to master what we believed was most important in that child’s life; and
  • to do a good job at what was required by law but was not actually at the core of what we personally believed was most important.

At the heart of the parent-child relationship is respect and love for one another and, at the same time, a recognition of who is the parent and who is the child. I have heard homeschooling mothers say things like this in regard to a certain textbook or course or exercise: “My child would never do that.” There is something wrong with that statement. If a parent believes a child needs to do something, then it is the parent’s responsibility to loving require that it be done and done thoroughly. That is not the child’s decision; it is the parents’.

I believe that parents should give children freedom to make many decisions but, of course, not all. Our Bethany spent some years with an interesting clothing style, but in my twenties I had heard a wise woman say that we mothers should “save our no’s.” We won’t ever let Bethany forget her silver tennis shoes (that may not seem strange now, but it did in the late 90s). When she wanted stand-out tennis shoes, I decided to save a “no.” Ray and I decided whether our children completed geometry; they decided whether to buy silver tennis shoes.

Of course, we had our own history of interesting attire. Here's our engagement picture. Can you tell it's 1974?
Of course, we had our own history of interesting attire. Here’s our engagement picture. Can you tell it’s 1974?

Learning to make decisions is part of a good education. Allowing a child to make decisions is part of good teaching and good parenting, too. Knowing which decisions those are takes prayer and wisdom.

I don’t think the question of whether “to test or not to test” is a good “test” of whether a homeschooling mother is a good homeschooling mother. Some mamas will decide to test, some will decide not to test, and some will do a little of both, like we did. In our curriculum for history, government, and economics, we offer tests, but we never make them mandatory for completing a course. We know that mamas can make that decisions better than we can.

A few questions help a mama evaluate her own situation. Do I test because I am afraid? Do I test because other people test? Does testing help my child? Does testing harm my child? Is my child a natural at taking tests or someone like Winston Churchill who didn’t do well in traditional academic testing, but who was amazing when he had real life tests that really mattered? Should testing wait for a while longer? What is testing doing to the heart of my child? The answers to these questions don’t have to be the same for every mama — or even for every child.

Ultimately I want my children and grandchildren to be able to pass the tests that are most important.

Examine me, O Lord, and try me;
Test my mind and my heart.
Psalm 26:2

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  1. Thank you for an excellent, thought provoking article. We don’t do a lot of testing. The boys have tests on their math as they use a computer based program, but in general, I’m not big on a lot of tests.

  2. You make excellent points that should serve as reminders to us all. However, experience tells me that one of your points is more likely to be ignored. Any questions regarding testing or any other amoral parenting choice is strictly for each homeschool teacher to ask regarding their own children.

    We should never extend these amoral choices like testing, certain educational philosophies, or even virtual schooling to the children of other homeschoolers. Ah, but it is done with calamitous regularity. It is good to extend clemency to areas where we do not have all the information, yet I have seen many well-meaning homeschoolers overstep the boundary of the family in this way. I hope your article helps parents to re-evaluate their opinions regarding any issue that is neither right nor wrong for all. Only that child’s parents have been given jurisdiction by God over that child. It is not for you or me to question, and the responsibility ultimately falls on the father of the family.

  3. Charlene, our homeschooling experiences go back to the 1980s when we hid out at home during the day so as not to be out in public during school hours, as I’ve told you. So that is different from most homeschoolers today. We had a good relationship with people at a Christian school and they let our children take achievement tests there and the children did well on the tests. That was good because we had no friends who homeschooled and everyone thought we were weird. On choosing when to say no, our son decided to wear his hair shoulder length when he was a teen. Years later he asked us why we let him wear his hair so long. We replied, “Well, it was your hair!”