Ways to Assess Your Child’s Progress

By Sharon Haag

Most important in determining which tests to give your child is determining the purpose you want to accomplish by the testing. Testing can be helpful toward several goals:

  • Evaluating student progress in a particular academic area and keeping assessment records (progress reports, samples of work)
  • Determining strengths and weaknesses so that curriculum can be adapted to meet individual needs
  • Understanding approximately how a child will fit in academically according to home country standards
  • Obtaining a measure of achievement that is understood and respected by home-country educators.

Various kinds of assessments can be used to accomplish these purposes. To evaluate academic progress and understand strengths and weaknesses so that you can plan appropriate curriculum, it is most helpful to use informal inventories/evaluations and the kinds of tests that are included with the curriculum materials you are using.

Informal reading inventories are a valuable tool. Listening to a child read aloud helps determine if the selection is an appropriate reading level for him.

  • Misreading five words per page (three for younger children) indicates the material is too difficult.
  • Reading with fluency and appropriate expression is a good indicator that the student is comprehending the material.
  • Noticing the kinds of errors made gives direction regarding what kinds of skills need work.

The “formal” tests at the end of chapters and units in textbooks can be used before material is studied in order to develop a more appropriate study plan. Not spending time on what the child already knows allows for much more effective use of the time that is available.

Take care to understand all the learning goals of a unit before skipping sections. For example, many children who can read selections from their reading program with comprehension need to read the selection anyway if a learning goal is to focus on elements of literature or writing with which they are not familiar.

At the same time, it may be possible to skip the word attack and comprehension exercises that go along with the lesson. Sections of practice problems in math may be skipped if the child clearly knows how to do them, but the word problems on those pages may need to be done to increase problem solving skills.

Achievement Tests

If you wonder how your children compare to home country peers in different areas of achievement, and if you plan to return to your home country and enroll them in school, it is helpful to have them periodically take the type of achievement test typical in your home country. Some countries have a schedule for testing at particular ages, and you should follow that.

For countries that do not have assigned ages for testing, give a standardized achievement test the year before furlough. Doing it at the beginning of the school year gives opportunity to strengthen areas of weakness you discover (ones that perhaps have not been covered in the curriculum you are using, but are typically covered in schools in your home country).

Another reason for giving standardized achievement tests is that it is helpful for your children to learn the typical kinds of test-taking skills they will experience in your home country. Also, national standardized achievement test scores are readily understood by educational personnel in home countries, so acceptance in schools is facilitated. (See below for information on obtaining standardized achievement tests for the U.S. and Canada.)


Formalized testing may not always be necessary. Even in Canada and the U.S., schools are increasingly looking with favor on “portfolios” — samples of student work. Even if formal test scores are desired, it is nevertheless helpful to maintain a portfolio because it provides a teacher or school with so much more information than mere grades and test scores.

An important item to include in a portfolio is a writing sample. In order to provide useful information, the sample should show the process the student went through, not just the final product. First draft and revisions should be attached to the final copy to show the student’s progression through the writing process. If possible, have a sample from the beginning, middle, and the end of the school year so development of writing skills can be noted.

To show student comprehension of written material and the ability to respond in writing, include in the portfolio an essay test in a particular subject area. A research report or description and pictures of a student-planned and executed project gives good indication of ability to plan, research, organize, and present information in a clear and interesting manner.

These kinds of skills are increasingly being recognized as important. They provide information that cannot be ascertained if only objective, multiple-choice types of assessments are given and if “grades” or test scores are the only kinds of records available.


For more on this area of assessing your children check out the following other pages:

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