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Homeschool testing special needs student: Five ideas to reduce stress

Standardized testing can be stressful for special needs students
Standardized testing can be stressful for special needs students
Holly Craw

Homeschool testing is not mandatory in Arizona but many families want some kind of assessment to show the progress they have made or to verify areas that need improvement. Standardized tests such as the Iowa or Stanford can be helpful for getting a baseline measure of the student’s current standing. Children with special needs can have accommodations such as extra time or having portions read aloud to them.

How do you find out what test level to use for a special needs student who has never used a standardized test and is doing work from different grades for each subject?

Get some practice tests and work with those first.

Covenant Homeschool Resource Center in Phoenix has some Iowa practice tests for $5 each, including shipping. These are just samplers of each type of question. Full-scale practice tests can be ordered from Bob Jones University Press for $15 each. If your child is doing 5th grade work in some subjects and 6th or 8th in others, get at least two practice tests in that range, preferably one each of 5th-8th grade. It doesn’t matter which test you use for the trial runs as both Stanford and Iowa cover the same types of questions and material.

I would love to hear your experience with testing special needs students. Please leave your comments below.

Test taking skills
Test taking skills Holly Craw

Test taking skills

  1. Spend some time showing your student how to take a test.

Students who have not tested previously can learn some good testing skills that will help set them at ease and give them greater success. Here are a few ideas.

  • Use the practice information to teach the testing skills. (This is not cheating, but using a real life application to learn successful strategies for the real test.)
  • Demonstrate how to fill in the circle with a Number 2 pencil. Cover it completely by tracing the outline and circling into the center.
  • Explain that multiple choice questions usually have 1-2 “silly” answers and help your child learn how to eliminate those. Work through several questions together and talk about why some choices obviously don’t work.
  • Show how to scan the questions and answers first, especially for reading sections, to see what information will be most important.
  • Teach how to look for key words in the question. For math, look for words that tell what operation to use. For language arts, pay attention to contrasting words (“Which sentence is not true for the story?)
Practice Test Score Chart
Practice Test Score Chart Holly Craw

Practice Test Score Chart

  1. Have your student work through one whole practice test, starting with the lowest level.

Observe how he or she responds to the material and note the amount of time she takes. Reassure her that this is for your benefit so you are better equipped to help her with her schooling, and it is a way to allow her to feel more comfortable with the testing process. Be positive and encouraging, but watch for signs of melt-down, and be sure to take breaks as needed.

Talk about what she is experiencing and help her remember her coping skills as she goes through the assessment. You may need to spread the practice tests over several days. When all the sections are completed, check them using the scoring materials that came with the test. Make a chart of the sections for each grade level you are using with a column for the number of questions and one for the number correct (see slide #2 on this page).

If more than 80% is correct for the first test, give the second test. However, if the score on any subject was under 70%, don’t do the higher level for that subject.

Stanford test subjects and timing
Stanford test subjects and timing Holly Craw

Stanford test subjects and timing

  1. Work through each practice test, eliminating the low sections each time you move up a level.

Keep going until your student reaches a level of overall struggle or you see a sharp increase in errors. If you chart the results, you will have a pretty good overall assessment of the functional grade level for each portion of the test.

Suppose you used all of the practice materials for 5th-8th grade and the results look like this:

Grade 5: 1 struggle area out of 15

Grade 6: 3 struggle areas out of 15

Grade 7: 7 struggle areas out of 15

Grade 8: 13 struggle areas out of 15

It appears that the primary functioning level is 6th-7th grade with a couple of pieces higher or lower. It would be safe to give her the 6th grade test, unless the good areas are really strong, in which case, move to the 7th grade test. This gives affirmation to what your daughter can do well.

Stanford testing materials
Stanford testing materials Holly Craw

Stanford testing materials

  1. Use the practice materials to see what areas need more assistance.

The practice tests are yours to keep. Make use of them by reviewing the questions missed. Determine if they are knowledge areas you have not yet covered or if the question was misread or inadvertently mismarked. Ask your child what she was thinking if an answer seems out of line for what she really knows. It can be easy to interpret a question differently than intended, and this information will help you assess what is really going on.

Go through any sections of the test that will be helpful to you both, without it becoming drudgery. Use what you have learned about your student’s testing style (struggle areas, interpretations, successes, meltdowns) and knowledge base to develop a plan for moving forward.

Notes: If a testing time has already been established and there is not enough time to work on the weaker areas, reassure your child that there are no bad implications no matter how well she does, but you will be able to use the results to help her maximize her potential for the coming year.

The Iowa and Stanford tests do not have grade levels on the booklets so it may not be necessary to tell the student that she is taking a 6th grade test at age 15. The difficulty will be if you are testing in a group setting and the other children are obviously not in high school. This can be handled by private testing with a certified school teacher or test administrator. The latter for homeschoolers can be found at the Bob Jones University Press website.


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(c) 2013 Holly Craw All rights reserved. You may post an excerpt with proper attribution and a link back to this page. Leave your comment and link below for a shout out.

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