Methods/tools for testing my kids’ academic grade levels & proficiencies
February 15, 2017 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Is there a dependable way for me to assess my kids’ academic competencies in basic subjects (math, reading, writing, science, history, geography, etc.) and against generally accepted standards or benchmarks?

U.S. and non-U.S-centric standards/benchmarks are ok, as long as the assessment tool or method itself is in English.

Background: My kids go to a (US) elementary school with no grades and two narrative-only reports a year about their academic progress. The school also leans toward the increasingly proven notion that homework for homework’s sake isn’t effective, so there’s very little school work brought home. I’m ok with that in theory, but it means I don’t see much of the content or concepts my kids encounter and/or grapple with. Graduates of the school seem to do well, and yet I am old-school enough about school to want to reassure myself of their academic progress. I started looking into home schooling resources for this, but with the growth of that approach here, there are so many of them I don't know how to assess the assessments.

For reference sake, we’re in Boston, MA and the kids are in elementary school.
posted by cocoagirl to Education (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could hire an educational consultant to give your kids various standardized tests; this will cost you thousands of dollars.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:55 PM on February 15, 2017

I realize you are probably looking for actual benchmarking devices, like tests.

If you are willing to ignore all the noise about Common Core and realize it's merely a checklist of what kids should know at each grade, it can be very useful. You can probably even assess your kids' readiness yourself.

You can read the standards here.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:56 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do not myself test kids in any way, but p. much everyone in my close social circle right now (including Ms. Fanclub) is some kind of testing professional or school psych or special education administrator or et cetera. (On preview: or is a private assessor like The corpse in the library suggest above.) So: our nation's current "generally accepted standards or benchmarks" (on preview: JoeZydeco's post re: "Common Core") have nothing to do with your child's intellectual development. Admittedly, my social circle leans waaay left, but 0% of my people put any stock whatsoever into Common Core. It is universally viewed as a national impediment to education. That being said, you can get an idea of what kind of benchmarks will be used to measure your kids in middle school, and as JoeZ suggests, you can just read the 2nd grade standard or whatever, and seat-of-the-pants interview them yourself.

But for your kids, you should care about the standards of your commonwealth, not the national standards. Your school should too - I imagine that, despite the lack of formal grading, that your school will start administering MCAS in grade 3. Talk to your school about this, I dunno if they share scores with you.

You can certainly asses your kids yourself but don't put too much stock in the scores, b/c you are not a testing professional and can unintentionally weight their scores with the way in which you administer the tests.

I have pretty direct experience of the high quality of the Measures of Academic Progress tool offered by NWEA. It is probably out of your intended price range but may be available for less than the educational consultant already mentioned. They won't even sell it to you without classes for you on how to administer it. You should check out their resources for parents as well.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2017

A simple if imprecise way of getting a sense of their reading level is to choose a few books they are comfortable reading and look them up on this tool; the grade level equivalents of the letter levels are listed here.

You should also ask for more classwork to be sent home, and not simply to satisfy your curiosity (though that should be a sufficient reason). Not piling on worksheets at home is fine, but that doesn't mean no learning at home, and you can help them learn by reinforcing and repeating the topics they discuss at school (or by filling in gaps, if you wish).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here is a bunch of info about Tests.

I believe my sons were given the Woodcock-Johnson (listed on that page) by the charter school where we homeschooled them initially. That established a baseline understanding of where they stood at the time, their strengths and their weaknesses. After that, I found an online list of expectations by grade level for the state I was in. I would go through the list twice annually, check off all the things that I knew for a fact they could do and observe them for a few days to try to suss out ones where I was not sure. (My sons hated being tested and were actively uncooperative in being tested in any way, even with verbal questions from their mother.)

Googling "school standards by grade" will get you links to resources from various states. Unfortunately, I am failing to find a nice, simple checklist like I had access to eons ago when I was homeschooling. But there are brochures and the like that will give you descriptions of what kids at various grade levels are expected to be able to do (in that state).
posted by Michele in California at 1:26 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

The first thing I would do is simply ask the teacher to provide a list of the grade level standards for each subject area. These are standard curriculum documents that all teachers should have in their possession, and should be willing to share. Ask the teacher which standards have already been taught, and which are coming up.

Curriculum frameworks are also available on your state's department of education website. For your state, it looks like the frameworks are here.

Then ask the teacher how she knows that your child is meeting the curriculum benchmarks. She must be doing some form of assessment!

For literacy in particular, ask the teacher what your children's reading and spelling levels are. The school should be using some leveling system, such as Fountas and Pinnell or DRA for reading, or DSA for spelling. Find out what the levels are, and where your child is on the continuum, and whether they are meeting grade level benchmarks.

If you want to see samples of your child's work, ask to have a parent teacher conference during which you get to see their notebooks, tests and examples of work in each subject. That would also be a good time to have the teacher explain how they know where your child is at in all of the required subjects.

Are there any standardized tests at the end of the year for their grade levels? If so, there must be released tests or sample test items that you can access and give to your children. Ask your teacher to provide them, or show you where to look online. They are probably on the DoE site, but I don't have time to search around for you right now.

Hope this helps!
posted by the thought-fox at 2:44 PM on February 15, 2017

The IOWA tests might be what you are looking for, but you would need to be affiliated with a school/ homeschool. Massachusetts Frameworks. NY's elementary math curriculum overview. England's national curriculum. Australia's website. e.g. What your First Grader Needs to Know.
posted by oceano at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2017

I'm a high school teacher in Massachusetts (Go Pats/Go Sox) and although I hesitate* to recommend it, here are the links for MCAS tests. They start at third grade and you can give the test and compare your kids' score to the state.

*I hesitate because MCAS is sort of easy for most kids, but it is the test used by schools in the Bay State.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:26 AM on February 16, 2017

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