Diagnostic tests are very different from standardized test such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Tests, and other norm-referenced tests. Standardized tests are administered under controlled conditions by approved administrators. Answers are sent in to be scored elsewhere. Results show how a child performed in comparison to others—as percentile rankings. Standardized tests provide only very general information to parents as to how their children are really doing, and what they actually know.
There are different types of diagnostic tests, some administered by professionals. However, all diagnostic tests are designed to identify particular skills and knowledge mastered (or not) by an individual child. This is much more useful information than that provided by a standardized test if you are trying to figure plan what to teach your child.
Many diagnostic tests may be administered by the parent who can observe his or her own child. The Diagnostic and Prescriptive Assessment is this type of test. A separate assessment book is available for each of grades K through 5. The parent administers the test and often interacts directly with the child in the testing process. For example, in a word recognition assessment, the student pronounces words aloud and the parent notes which are correct or incorrect. Sometimes, students are given the option of answering either orally or in writing as in an exercise where they identify capitalization and punctuation errors. Some of the segments of the test are timed. The entire test should be done over a span of four or five days child does not tire from testing and give inaccurate results.
The parent scores the assessment, getting immediate results. The answer key is in the back of each book. The answer key is followed by a Student Record Sheet / Remedial Strategies. This is actually a number of pages where you record results and note errors. One of the special features of this series of assessments is that for each section of the assessment, there are suggestions for remediation if needed. These suggestions should probably be incorporated into your teaching plans.
The test might be used any time during the year, but unless a child is very advanced, I suspect he or she might be discouraged if they take the test early in the year. The tests are purposely designed to be challenging. While the skills assessed are based on state guidelines and grade level textbooks, they seem more difficult than some other diagnostic and standardized tests for the same levels. In addition, the criteria for mastery is that a child score 80% correct or higher. According to researcher Brian Ray's findings, homeschoolers' average scores are at least 30 percentile points higher than average (i.e., 80th percentile or higher) (www.nheri.org). In light of these results, a more challenging assessment for homeschoolers seems very appropriate.
Assessments are self-contained in a single book for each level. Books are consumable and not reproducible, so you will need to purchase one for each student. The Student Record Sheet / Remedial Strategies pages should probably be kept as part of a students permanent records.
The kindergarten assessment primarily covers readiness skills, language, and math. But it also has smaller sections on science, social science, and map skills (e.g., What town do you live in?).
First through fourth grade assessments spend most to the time on math and language areas, but also include smaller sections on science, social sciences, and map skills. Fifth grade narrows social sciences to only history, expecting students to be familiar with some factual information from United States History.
Grades two through five require students to write an original composition (one paragraph in length). In my experience, this is one of the most useful assessment strategies of a diagnostic test.
Homeschooling parents who really want to know how well their children are doing would do well to use The Diagnostic and Prescriptive Assessment rather than the usual standardized test. Even if a standardized test is required, you might want to also use the diagnostic test to get results that are useful to you.