Although Texas doesn’t require homeschoolers to take standardized tests, I still like to have my children tested each year. I’m not rigid about it. We miss some years, and that doesn’t bother me. I think standardized testing helps me to identify potential weaknesses in my curriculum. It also gets the kids comfortable with the whole testing process, and that should help them out when it comes time to think about college and the SAT.
Last year, I had Nathan and Megan take the Stanford 10 test, and I was pleased with how it reported the results. Of course, for the purpose of comparison, it’s best to stick with the same test year after year. I decided to make the Stanford our family’s yearly test. This year, when I went to Classical Conversations Testing Services to see who was offering it, I saw that they had an online option! After a few emails back and forth, I was satisfied that it was exactly the same as the written test. I liked the idea of not having to pack everyone up and take them somewhere, so I took the plunge and signed them up. The test was only for third grade and up, so Evan didn’t get to test this year.
This was the first year that the online version was offered, at least to homeschoolers, and I have to say, it showed. The communication was confusing and haphazard, and the week before the test, I found myself wondering if I had wasted my money. Then, the Friday before the Monday test, a detailed and concise email came through (after a series of completely unhelpful ones) that answered all my questions and made me think that we were back on track. This was going to be a breeze.
I wouldn’t actually call it a breeze. The first year newness showed up again on testing morning. It turns out that some of the proctors didn’t really know how to moderate conference calls, and everything was really confusing once again. As I tried to get both Nathan and Megan set up on their tests, the younger boys were having free reign in the house, emptying out the refrigerator, playing tag, and so on. Nathan’s proctor was having trouble with the conference call, so I was helping him out. Then, I looked at Megan and she was sitting in front of the computer screen, holding the phone, with tears running down her cheeks. “I don’t know what to do!” she said, quietly, so that no one on the phone could hear her. I grabbed her phone. “Just keep hitting ‘next!’ You’re doing fine.” In two minutes, she was happily testing away as if nothing had upset her.
So, I’m sitting there in between the two kids- one at the desktop and one on the laptop, nursing Austin and hoping the house is still standing when I get out, and I’m telling myself, “I am never doing this again. Never again.” But right about that point, things smoothed out. The proctors hit their stride, the other test participants figured things out too, and everything started going along as scheduled. In spite of the rough start, the first day of testing ended on time.
By the second day, Nathan was doing everything completely on his own. He didn’t need my help for anything. Megan was able to handle the conference call and the signing in by herself just in time for the last test section.
Okay, enough of my ranting. Here’s the bottom line:
- The Stanford 10 Online is exactly the same as the written test. The only difference is that the kids are simply clicking the right answer. No more “fill in your answer completely and make the mark dark.” That was a major bonus. No chance of losing one’s place on the bubble sheet.
- Before the test, you go to the Pearson (publisher of the Stanford) website to run a system check on your computer. (That takes just a couple of minutes and a few clicks.) Then, you download a special browser for test taking. When you open that browser, it “takes over” your computer so that you can’t google the questions as you’re testing. Smart design, actually, and it worked beautifully. Print the emails with test information beforehand!
- The homeschool parent is NOT the proctor. (This caused a lot of the confusion leading up to the test. We were given access to all this training intended for the proctors, and it made it seem like we were going to be the ones proctoring our kids.) The proctor is contacted through a conference call. For older kids (fourth grade and up) all the testers had to do was call in at the start of each section, and they were given a session number. Type that in and they could hang up and test, calling the proctor if there were any problems. Third graders had to keep the line open longer because their test required more frequent proctor involvement.
- You need a separate computer for each child, and a separate phone line for each grade. Some of the older grades had staggered start times to accommodate families with children in multiple grades. Also, certain of the older grades actually had the same proctor- fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth, high school- so you'd only need one phone line for each group.
- All times are Eastern. Pretty simple, but it might help to explain it to your kids in advance. That way, they'll be able to "translate" the section times that the proctor is giving out.
- If for some reason your computer stalls or goes out during the test, the student’s answers are not lost. Once you get back into the system, he can pick up where he left off.
- The Stanford 10 is not timed. If your child needs more time when the scheduled session ends, he is supposed to just hit “pause” and the proctor will let him go back and complete it when all the sections are done.
- Here’s the very best part: We tested on Monday and Tuesday and got the results emailed Thursday! Normally, results take six weeks! Now, I have the results in hand and I can make informed decisions for next year.
This is what could have made it better:
- Better communication before the test. (I think this will probably be automatic next year.)
- Someone to watch the little kids. Even though I wasn’t proctoring, I was too distracted to keep track of them properly. (I’m pretty sure they polished off the leftover AWANA candy that I was planning on taking back to church, but no one will ‘fess up to that one.)
- A trial conference call before test day. This would help work out kinks in advance, and it would be a good time to go over conference call etiquette. (Mute the line! We don’t need to hear your dog bark or your toddler squeal. Not that noise bothers my kids at all.)
- Staggered start times for all grades so that multiple ages can test without having to have a phone line for each one.
Would we do it again next year? Absolutely. Nathan and Megan are very confident about the process now, and I think they could pretty much handle it on their own. Evan will be old enough to take the online version next year. I’ll probably try to get together with another interested family so that one mom can handle test monitoring while the other keeps the little ones. Otherwise, I’ll just hire a sitter for the two testing afternoons.
I think I pretty much detailed the process. (Sorry to the folks who find this utterly boring!) If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them! I got the feeling as we were taking the test that this sort of thing is definitely the wave of the future.