Many homeschooled children are required to take standardized tests, and many parents want their children to take them whether or not they are required. However, accessing the tests in a convenient and affordable manner can be challenging, and some tests require that a proctor administer the test. In addition, some homeschoolers have difficulty taking tests in unfamiliar settings as is required with many options. Both Christian Liberty and Academic Excellence provide a solution for students in grades two through twelve who are able to use the California Achievement Test (CAT). This is the 1970 version of the CAT, and it is not tied to the Common Core, but it does a good job of evaluating academic essentials.
For those concerned about testing to meet legal requirements, Academic Excellence has a page with a map showing the status of each state in regard to use of the CAT. Each state on the map also links to a page at HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) with specific details for each state. If you have any doubts, check with your state or local homeschool organization to make sure the test will satisfy any legal requirements.
Both Christian Liberty (CL) and Academic Excellence (AE) offer an online version of the complete CAT package that assesses student achievement in reading, language, spelling, and math. CL also offers the printed version of this test, and AE will do so beginning in April of 2015. AE also sells individual subject area tests (online versions) from the CAT in Language, Math, and Reading ($10 each) as well as practice tests ($5). Practice tests have sections that are about one-fourth the length of those on the actual test. You might use practice tests to help accustom your child to this this method of testing. You will get immediate results as to the number of correct answers, but you will not get the full results as you do from the actual tests.
Children can take the tests on computers or tablets, but a dependable, high-speed internet connection is essential. (Second and third graders also need to have a speaker on their computer.) Make sure your child has paper and pencil handy to work out problems or make notes.
While taking a test on the computer might seem uncomfortable or difficult for children, they should become familiar with the procedures since many tests at upper levels are now being offered almost exclusively online. And keep in mind that with paper and pencil tests, students have to enter answers on rows of circles, and it is easy to fill in the wrong row. The computer version eliminates that mechanical problem.
Both AE and CL allow you to use the test up to one year from the date of purchase. You can plan to use it on your own schedule, picking a time when your child is most likely to do well on the test. This is a timed test. Each subject area test needs to be completed in one sitting. Children can take breaks for as long as you choose between the different subject area sections, although it is generally best to take all of the sections within a relatively short time span so that you are taking a “snap shot” of your child’s abilities at a certain time. For students with special needs, AE offers the same CAT in an untimed version. Children can take as long as they need. Scores are reported noting that the test was not timed.
Neither AE nor CL requires parents to have a bachelor’s degree to administer these tests as is the case with some other tests.
After students complete the entire test, you get immediate scores and results that are printable. Results show grade equivalency, percentile ranking, and stanine. (Explanations for each of these are on the Academic Excellence site.) Both AE and CL also provide a composite score (for $3) which is required by some states. If you take tests with AE for two or more years, you can get year-to-year comparison of your child’s progress. CL deducts the cost of the test if you enroll your child within six months of taking the test.
Note that CLP also offers TestPoint for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. TestPoint is a placement test rather than an achievement test.
Both CL and AE offer recommendation services in conjunction with their testing service. Christian Liberty's recommendation service is available at two levels: basic ($10) and premium ($29). For the basic level, based on results from the CAT, CL recommends complete curriculum, drawing primarily from resources sold by CLP. At the premium level, you get a phone conversation of up to 30-minutes with a curriculum specialist. Premium service users will receive recommendations based on other factors in addition to test scores.
AE makes recommendations for supplemental resources to help students improve in specific areas as indicated by test scores rather than recommendation for core curriculum, although some of the their recommendations could be used as your core resource for a subject area. AE recommendations are from many publishers and include workbooks, textbooks, games, and test prep resources. They make both primary and secondary recommendations. AE explains:
The resource recommendations from Academic Excellence are strategically selected to strengthen and improve competency and mastery in academic areas presented in standardized testing. These key selected resources make excellent "tutoring aides" and addenda to any curriculum. Our goal in developing the Academic Excellence recommendation service is to provide parents with user friendly, economical resources that strengthen students' academic achievement and testing skills; focus tutoring and teaching efforts; and facilitate preparation for and success in ACT, SAT, and college testing. All recommendations are based upon the student's test scores and our staff's extensive experience with home education. (http://www.academicexcellence.com/complete-online-california-achievement-test/).
While the CAT is the same from both AE and CL, the associated services and options vary. Your choice of which testing service to use will probably depend upon the options and extra services.