What grade is my child operating at? Which level of the program should I buy? How do I know if a homeschool book is too easy or too hard for my homeschooler?
These are just some of the many questions that parents ask when trying to determine which homeschooling products to use. Particularly when a family hasn’t used a certain publisher or product before, it can be difficult to gauge exactly where the child should “drop in” to the program. When starting a new set of books, a packaged all-in-one curriculum product, or even just choosing books off the shelf at the local retailer, how do parents know which ones to buy?
Fortunately for modern homeschoolers, there are many placement tools now available. Some come in the form of general testing. Better still, others come from the makers of the products themselves.
In a nutshell, the word “placement” refers to figuring out at which level a child should begin. That is, which grade, what step, which level or even what book, depending on the product, is most appropriate — for a particular child, given that child’s readiness to do the work.
Placement is different for different products. Not all speak the same language.
Sometimes, products are developed with grade levels in mind. Grade 4 students would typically use the 4th grade book. Students in 11th grade would use the 11th grade book. And so on.
Other products are offered in levels (think: stages or tiers). For instance, after a child completes the first level, he or she simply moves on to the next. And then the next. Until the program has been completed. The publisher may make a recommendation about the range of ages that might fit within a particular level. Other times, no age or grade is ever mentioned, leaving it up to the parent.
Still other products are advertised for any age. In fact, you’ll sometimes find a resource labeled, “All ages” or “Ages 10 to adult”. Some general electives, foreign language systems and online learning options are written this way.
So how should parents decide which ones to use? There are basically two ways that parents can go. The first is using intuition combined with trial-and-error. With this method, parents (or students, if old enough to help) use good judgement to select materials and then give them a try. If they work, great. If not, it’s back to the drawing board. Though trial-and-error may not always be the most efficient or least expensive solution, it works. That is, it works as long as parents aren’t stubborn about getting their money’s worth and using the materials anyhow. Or, if parents simply don’t notice the clues from their children, allowing a bad situation to continue.
The other way is placement testing. And lest anyone worry about the word “testing”, be aware that placement testing is easy and painless, and nobody but parents ever need to know the results. With placement tests, students and parents work together to choose the right resource. Either the parent reviews a set of benchmarks, or the child completes a series of questions, and then a recommendation as to the correct level immediately becomes apparent.
Placement tests from product makers come in many shapes and sizes. To get an idea of what one might look like, just a couple of these are linked below. Note these do not comprise an exhaustive list of placement tests. These are merely offered to show an example of the kinds of placement offered by the makers of different homeschool materials:
There are many others that can be found by calling manufacturers or visiting product web sites.
Placement testing can also come from testing agencies. Tests offered by these groups are designed to place children, no matter what curriculum products are being considered. It is beyond the scope of this post to list them all and comment upon the practicality of using tests for this purpose; however, visiting either one of these pages:
will offer a quick glimpse of just a few of the kinds of tests (placement and other kinds) that are available for free download or purchase.
Keep in mind that no placement test is ever fool-proof. Many things come into play when children are being tested for course placement, some having nothing to do with the subject being tested at all. However, when taken correctly, in an ideal setting, these tools should offer at least a general result that parents can then take a look at, seeing if the placement sounds right to them. And there is never any harm to taking additional placement tests, either at a level above or below from the same publisher, or from another developer altogether, just to be sure. Or not taking a placement test at all, and just using judgement and observation, as described earlier.
For more about this topic, watch for future posts about testing and placement. You are also invited the search this site to see what else has been written so far.